Monday, September 22, 2014

Gotham: Promise and Peril

Later today, Gotham, the new television show about how Batman's major law enforcement figure James Gordon rises from officer to Commissioner, premieres.  I for one am excited, though my excitement is tempered by the fact that too often, I get excited for television shows that die on me before the full season is over.

You're talking to someone who watched The Cape, Journeyman, and Golden Boy, all shows that bombed and didn't make it to Season Two (though with Journeyman, it was most unfair because it was a much better show than the one Reed Diamond is in now).  Further, I am about a handful of people who remember Due South, which did last three years but whose third year was a sorry shambles and which should not have ever been made.

As a side note, Gotham is similar to Golden Boy in that both are about the rise of a young man from rookie cop to Police Commissioner.  The major difference is that with Golden Boy, we had a flash-forward and flashbacks style that sometimes bordered on parody, while Gotham at least will stick to a chronological rise, with a season devoted to the rise of one villain from the Batman rogue's gallery (with this year apparently being Oswald Cobblepot, who would rise as The Penguin).

I thought about watching either Gotham or The Flash, and opted against the latter because since it is a bit of a spin-off of Arrow, I don't know if I could follow it since I've never seen Arrow.   I also figure The Flash will be a hit because it's riding on Arrow's coattails and it has a ready fan-base.  I think the show would have to be an absolute disaster for it to be cancelled in its initial outing.

Gotham, however, is a bit more tricky.  This show stays with Batman mythology by chronicling the early years of Commissioner Gordon, but it's clear that 'Batman' won't rise until the series' end (at least that's the show's very big ambition).  We have always known that Gordon was a detective when young Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, so it is logical to make Gordon almost old enough to be Bruce's father.

I also think it will be a fascinating journey, if successful, to see how one of the few lights of morality in the cesspool that is Gotham managed to remain an upright figure in a world overrun by darkness and despair.  We know so much about Batman/Bruce Wayne, but not as much about Gordon apart from that he is a good man in a bad world.  Gordon is Batman's greatest ally, and we now may have a unique spin of how Detective Gordon will influence the young Master Wayne. 

Will Gordon know who will rise as The Dark Knight?  Will he have a daughter that herself will take on a superhero mantle? 

That remains to be seen, and Gotham may be the place to have a whole new mythology or affirmation of current mythology come from.   

What I see though is a potential source for trouble.  Perhaps this is my own na├»ve nature regarding comic books, but I took it for granted that the villains were all contemporaries of Batman.  I always thought they were around the same age.  At least in regards to both Cobblepot and Edward Nygma/The Riddler, they will be Gordon's age (Ben McKenzie, who is playing Gordon, is 36, while Cory Michael Smith, who is Nygma, is 27).  There are only two future villains who will be Bruce Wayne's age: Camren Bicondova's Selina Kyle and Claire Foley's Ivy Pepper (aka Catwoman and Poison Ivy respectively). 

In regards to Kyle, there simply was no other way to go. Catwoman and Batman have the strangest relationship in comics: in turns romantic and antagonistic, Kyle is sometimes villainess, sometimes anti-heroine.  If the show continues, it will allow the cat burglar and environmental psychopath a most interesting pair of relationships with Bruce.

However, while I am looking forward to seeing the rise of figures like The Penguin, will they continue to be part of Gotham once they achieve power?  For example, if Oswald by season's end embraces his persona, will he join or battle The Riddler, who is waiting in the wings as a Gotham Police Department coroner?  How will other villains be integrated in any future seasons?  Will they stick close to tradition, or will they be shifted? 

And what of Bruce Wayne himself?  Will we go a few years into the future to allow for Wayne to grow older (and more likely to take on the mantle)?  I imagine we will see more of Bruce Wayne than ever, particularly as he continues to grow?  Wouldn't it be interesting if we saw perhaps Captain Gordon interact with Wayne as he practices martial arts?

This seems a bit unlikely, as Sean Pertwee's Alfred is now an ex-British Marines brawler and less the refined 'gentleman's gentleman' we've come to know and love.  As a side note, this does mean Pertwee's chances of coming back to Elementary as Detective Inspector Lestrade are dim. 

I confess, my favorite Batman villain has always been Penguin, ever since Burgess Meredith quacked his way through the Batman television show.  As a child, I did an awesome impersonation, right down to using my pen as a cigarette holder.  So far, the news is good on Robin Lord Taylor's interpretation, which appears to be the highlight of early reviews (even those who dislike Gotham).  Judging just from the few clips I've seen, I am highly impressed and think Taylor has a good shot of making his Penguin a far more memorable one than either the deliberately campy Meredith and the extremely dark, almost frightening Danny DeVito version.  The reviews for Gotham have been all over the place: some I've read have loved it, others question whether it SHOULD last, let alone whether it WILL.  Some appear to think it's the most promising show of the season, and others think it will fall quickly once people see that Batman isn't there and that Jim Gordon won't be enough to hold their interest. 

That would be a great shame if Gotham died quickly, because I think the show has great potential.  So far the market is being saturated with comic-book based television shows: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a mild hit, Arrow more so, and both The Flash and Constantine are debuting this season as well.  There's talk of a Supergirl television series, the S.H.I.E.L.D prequel Agent Carter is coming mid-season later this year, TNT is close to making Titans, a Teen Titans series (and if true, I hope it takes the place of Franklin & Bash, which is all but dead to me now) and Netflix is bringing such characters as Daredevil and Luke Cage to their subscribers. 

I honestly don't see Gotham getting lost in this shuffle: the characters are too well-known for it to disappear quickly.  The show would have to be absolutely hideous and laughably bad for Gotham to meet an early end (even if it currently scheduled, as I understand it, for a mere thirteen episodes, which is no great problem given that many shows have this try-out period.  Elementary was also set for thirteen episodes until CBS ordered a full season and now is going on Season Three).  That fate of a quick death I think would go to Constantine, the least-known of the group; the chance to plunge into the mythos of Batman while having not The Dark Knight, but Jim Gordon, as our protagonist has great promise.

The show devolving into a crime-of-the-week procedural with secondary stories for our favorite villains (and Donal Logue) are its peril.

I for one will be watching, waiting, and hoping...


Sunday, September 21, 2014

El Paso Symphony Orchestra September 2014 Review

Yesterday, I went to my first El Paso Symphony Orchestra concert in somewhere between fifteen to twenty years.  I had promised myself many times to go, but it wasn't until I put it into my planner that I finally went.

I'm so glad I did, because I got to enjoy great music and find that the EPSO is something that is really enjoyable.

One that that wasn't enjoyable was the prices.  I was taken aback at how expensive they were.  Granted, I could have sat up way high for $17, and in some ways this is logical.  Not only are the prices acceptable, but the music rises.  However, I didn't want to climb all those stairs at the Plaza Theater, so it was the 'cheap' back-row seats at $22. 

Given that many of the $42+ seats further up were sold, I guess there are more patrons of the arts in EP than I thought. 

The audience attendance was to me predominantly old and predominantly white.  While the U.S. Census Bureau reports that only 14% of El Paso is white non-Hispanic, the audience at the EPSO concert was in my estimate around 60% white non-Hispanic.  This, however, may not be entirely accurate if one goes by images alone.  I suspect that there were quite a few wealthy Mexicans from Juarez, who tend to 'look' white but are Hispanic (who can be of any race).

The fact that the EPSO appears to be supported by an older, whiter audience to me bodes poorly, for classical music should be something for everyone, and this 'elitism' I think does more damage to the 84-year-old's institution than anything else.  We should remember the El Paso Symphony Orchestra is the oldest symphony orchestra in, screw you, San Antonio!

The program, called First Impressions, consisted of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Number 2 sandwiched between two Debussy pieces: Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun and La Mer.   Performing the concerto was Natasha Paremski, an up-and-coming pianist of powerful virtuosity.  I am a passionate Debussy fan.  For me, life without Claude Debussy's music is simply not worth living.   Conducting was EPSO Musical Director Bohuslav Rattay. 

We began with The Star-Spangled Banner, and after the drumroll out popped Maestro Rattay, like a kid who suddenly became aware where he was and was about to start late.  As the audience soon began singing the lyrics, I was reminded of the El Paso Baseball games, where people start singing along to the actual singer.  Normally I don't sing at baseball games since there is someone there to do it, but at the symphony I gladly and eagerly sang along.

Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun was beautifully performed, as was La Mer.  Curiously, the only real issue appeared to be the horn section: in both pieces it looked like the trumpets went slightly off-key.  I enjoyed Rattay's conducting.  He had no podium to hold a score, and it's a delight to see the enthusiasm he has.  When he conducts, it looks almost as if he's dancing, with a lightness and joy in the beautiful music.

Paremski's recital was mesmerizing and inspirational.  As she kept adjusting her seat Paremski pounded the keys in a wild yet passionately controlled performance.  Her dexterity is incredible, and I was so thrilled with her recital that I've decided to pick up playing the piano myself...after I graduate.  For an encore, she played the third part of a sonata but because she had no microphone most people could not hear what or who the sonata was/was by.  Still, it was enthusiastic and delightful, leading to the first of at least three or four curtain calls to a standing ovation.

During the intermission, I got Ms. Paremski's CD and autograph, and as I was going back to my seat I heard a voice with a faint Czech accent say, "Well, it's time to go back to work".  I found myself walking alongside Maestro Rattay!  I was quite surprised at finding the Maestro happily mingling with the audience, and in his not-so-formal attire (no bow tie but still in black, something more in line of what the 12th Doctor wears). As we walked back to our respective places I mentioned that this was the first symphony concert in twenty years (a rough estimation), and he replied,  "She can REALLY play, can't she?" 

I replied that yes, and that I was so glad I came.  I mentioned that I love Debussy.  "Me too," he said, before someone else came up to him. 

I really enjoyed the El Paso Symphony Orchestra concert and was so glad that I went.  I think I will go to every monthly concert because the music and the orchestra itself was so excellent, classy yet casual. 

It was a great evening.    

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This is As Deep as Jared and Peter Ever Get


Deep Throat is the first Franklin & Bash episode I've seen all season where I haven't wanted to throw the remote at the screen.  It's still not as good as Season One stories, and the central case made me almost root against the client, but at least there was a semblance of character development and little intrusion from the idiocy that usually rules F&B, so that's a plus.

The main case involves Josh Taylor (Devon Werkheiser), a high school student who is being accused of libel because in his school paper, he published an article stating that the Prom Queen election was rigged for a certain student, and that there was vote-tampering involved.  Josh happens to be the son of Molly Taylor (Courtney Henggeler), an old flame of Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).  He was so inept in high school that at their Prom, their first dance was also their last, as he came (in white pants, no less) when they were dancing cheek to cheek.  This tidbit delights his 'partner', Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer), who doesn't waste an opportunity to mock his best friend.

In any case, Molly and her bastard child face great difficulties.  Josh is expelled, and his journalism scholarship is withdrawn due to the brewing scandal that perhaps HE was the one who tampered with the ballot in order to get a scoop.  He's gone from Woodward and Bernstein to Stephen Glass, but is there a way to get to the truth and save Josh's reputation?  A little help from their investigator Danny Mundy (Anthony Ordonez) and some anonymous tips yield convenient clues, and some shady business by Principal Edgar (Kevin Rock). 

There's also some personal personnel business, as Jared and Ellen Swatello (Rhea Seehorn), his 'friends with benefits', have to answer questions as to the full state of their relationship.  At the H.R. meeting, we find that Swatello sees their relationship as 'somewhat serious', one where the possibility of formalizing it is open, while Franklin admits he sees it as 'casual', and even went so far as to write a three-paragraph essay about how marriage is dead.  What exactly IS the state of their relationship?  We'll find out, but not this week.

On the whole, what made Deep Throat a much better Franklin & Bash episode, one that has come close to capturing how it was before it became too self-indulgent and cock-sure (in more ways than one) is that it wasn't afraid of human emotion.  In many episodes, Peter's longing for love (be it his ex ADA Janie Cross, his ex Officer Cowell, or his ex Molly Taylor) has been touched on, as if he yearns for love and stability but is terrified of losing his fratboy lifestyle.  The pull between his heart and his head (not his brain, mind you, but his head) has made Gosselaar's character who at times seems downright human.

This time, however, it is Jared who has to come to some understanding that he can't be a child forever.  He too is terrified of commitment, and he simply can't bring himself to contemplate leaving his bestie.  Granted, Jared's always had an undercurrent of repressed homosexual longing for Peter (emotional and/or physical), but this time we get the sense that maybe Jared might actually be human as well.  It does stretch the imagination that Swatello, who in the beginning said to them that they "drive a clown car of immaturity" would seriously contemplate a long-term relationship, even marriage, for someone like Jared who never wants to do anything sensible.  For all we know, Swatello may be the one who just prefers the sex and nothing more. 

However, at least Ellen Swatello knows that eventually the bump-and-grind have to go somewhere beyond the mere physical satisfaction they get, and knows that perhaps Jared is not the one who can be a full partner.  She may even know what the Math Club President Connie (Dyana Liu) told Jared and Peter when they were interviewing her about their case.  "You make a cute couple," she innocently tells them when they try to hoodwink her with their 'domestic partners' routine.

I was highly impressed with Werkheiser's performance as Josh.  Granted, his single-minded and high opinion of his role as 'truth teller to the world' got on my nerves, but at least he was highly convincing as someone who has one goal in life (be the new face of Journalism) and pursues it with a passion.  He isn't the smartest reporter (publishing an article on his blog with the headline Principal Edgar Rigs Election with just anonymous sources to verify this and not tell his lawyers was not a bright move) and let's face it: someone throwing a Prom Queen election the way it was done and by someone in particular also seems a bit too much to believe.  However, one isn't going to belabor the point.  Hopefully, Werkheiser will get more recognition in the future.

We still have terrible issues in regards to how Franklin and Bash behave.  I agree with Principal Edgar when he tells them, "I'd expect my sophomores to be able to NOT laugh at the mention of a gag order," though they can't help themselves.  Seriously, guys, how long have you been practicing law?  At the end of the episode, we find that Jared had never heard of All the President's Men or what 'Deep Throat' meant beyond the Linda Lovelace epic.   Again, we have to rely on the old 'Jared Franklin and Peter Bash are really stupid and ignorant about a lot of things' to bring the 'comedy'.

However, on the whole Deep Throat is perhaps the best episode of Franklin & Bash that has come around all season.   Maybe with five episodes left before we wrap up the season, Kevin Falls and Bill Chais finally woke up and realized that fans were getting garbage and decided it was time to rescue the show from sheer stupidity. 

Then again, Jared and Peter have a nasty habit of being a bit like how former Israeli Ambassador and Foreign Minister Abba Eban described the Palestinians:

They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 


Next Episode: Dance the Night Away 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tis Better to Giver Than to Receive


Despite the great praise Lois Lowry's novel has received through the years, I have never taken the time to read The Giver.  Apparently that mindset also went for the film adaptation, for The Giver all but bombed at the box office, just like another adaptation of a science-fiction classic (Ender's Game).  Just like last year's Ender's Game, I fail to understand why The Giver failed, since the film is a strong and much more intelligent film than the recent glut of dystopian teen-centered films/novels.  There is a bit of a love triangle, and some of the performances are weak (I'm looking at you, Kate and Taylor!) but the film also leaves us asking serious questions about what it means to achieve a 'perfect world' and at what cost to our own humanity. 

The world has been devastated, but from the ashes a new society has emerged, one which contains peace, uniformity, and total happiness.  In this world, there are family units, but they are not 'fathers, mothers, and children' in the traditional sense.  Children are basically bred, where if they are found to be fit they are assigned to adults.  In this utopia, there are certain important time frames, all celebrated in a special ceremony.  Here, the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) appears to this community via hologram and presents the various groups that are being commemorated.  There is the Release to Elsewhere for the aged, where they would go into 'retirement'.  There is the selection of Birth Mothers, a ceremony where nine-year-olds can get bicycles (and begin their journey to adulthood) and at last, the Ceremony of the Grown.  Here, the eighteen-year-olds who now are given their jobs for life, be it gardeners, soldiers, and so forth.

We look at three youth.  There is Asher (Cameron Monaghan), a jokester who is as rebellious as they come.  There is Fiona (Odeya Rush), a pretty girl.  Then there is Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who is unsure of where he will go.  Jonas is different from everyone in his community, for he on occasion sees things in color, while the world is in eternal greys.  His gifts have been noted, and the Chief Elder announces that Jonas will be the Receiver of Memory, and will begin training with The Giver (Jeff Bridges).

His parental units Father and Mother (Alexander Skarsgard and Katie Holmes) are honored, but Jonas is still fearful.  The Receiver of Memory holds all the past of what the world was like before the Ruin, when the world was torn asunder and they had created their peaceful world.  The Giver soon presents Jonas with the memories of all that came before: things like 'snow' and 'music', cultural diversity where people were not all the same, the expressions of faith and joy and love.

However, the world before The Ruin had its dark side: violence and war, jealousy, racism, starvation, pollution, hunting to extinction.  All these things have been wiped from the world Jonas lives in, all for the betterment of the community.  Soon, however, Jonas struggles with what he sees: both the terror of the old world, and the loss of beauty from that same world in his own.  Jonas' world is one where a 'kiss' is simply not known, where the word 'love' is such an archaic term people need to have it made specific with a request for "Precision of language". 

It is also a world where a baby, if he or she does not meet a certain level of physical health, is to be 'released'.  The Giver shows what 'releasing' means, and armed with his new knowledge, is horrified: the child is basically killed.  Worse, Father is the one who releases children (and by extension, the retirees to Elsewhere), but because Father knows nothing of the world prior to the Ruin, he has no sense of whether this is an immoral act.  Jonas has grown fond of the child Father brought home in hopes he would mature, who was named Gabriel.  Jonas notices that Baby Gabriel has the same markings that he has, suggesting he too might be a Receiver.  However, the decision has been made to 'release' Gabe. 

From there, The Giver becomes a bit of a chase film, with Jonas rescuing Gabe and fleeing to beyond the Elsewhere, where if he manages to cross its boundaries all the memories will be released.  The Chief Elder is determined to not have their world destroyed by the memories of the past which have kept the communities in peace and beauty, but now the race is on.

Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide's adaptation of Lowry's book creates a plausible world, one where Gabriel can be given a toy elephant that is called by Father a 'hippo', which he says is a mythological creature that could run really fast because he had five legs.  Director Philip Noyce similarly made this world a believable one, though I imagine the fact that to emphasize the sameness of it, part of the movie is in black-and-white might either puzzle or frustrate audiences.

Curiously, the black-and-white cinematography reminded me of another film that touched on similar aspects: Pleasantville, where the innocence of its 1950s-era sitcom were undone once color (i.e. the world's dark side) entered the picture.  The world of The Giver appears to be one where peace and harmony reign, everyone knows their place (which is the same) and there is total equality.

However, the film also shows that this world is quite frightening in its own way: no music, no love, no qualm about taking life that does not appear to be 'fit'.  The Giver makes its case that life is one of great darkness but also great joy, that humanity cannot be placid because the richness and complexity of life cannot be secured within a narrow safety.

We see this particularly in Thwaites' performance, and one hopes that the failure of The Giver won't cut out his career.  Jonas is someone who senses he is different, and as he learns both the joy of dancing at a wedding or the horrors of killing animal for sport or humans for war (he is able to see and experience these things via linking to the Giver's own memories, which are the collective memories pre-Ruin), Thwaites expresses the happiness and terror they evoke in him.  We see the evolution of the character to understanding the world he lives in is not the utopia he always thought it was, but a dystopia built on a certain emptiness.

Similarly, Rush as the love interest expresses her own realization into perhaps wondering if there is more to the world than what she gladly and unquestionably accepts.  Bridges' gruff Giver masks a man deeply haunted by how the world is and was, and Streep (though hampered by a bit of a fright wig) is the cool and rational Chief Elder. Even Skasgard (who is a bit of box office poison, many of the movies he's in bombing at the box office) is effective as the more compassionate Father.

About the only ones who didn't fare well were Holmes as Mother (who was more blank than brittle) and POP star Taylor Swift (who stopped being country several boyfriends ago).  I'll say that Swift as Rosemary, the Giver's daughter and the one who would have been the Receiver if she hadn't been so horrified by the truth that she ends up killing herself, at least didn't embarrass herself in her 'blink and you'll miss it' performance, but an actress Swift ain't. 

Granted, the last act where Jonas is fleeing with Gabriel at times is far-fetched (he manages to survive plunging off a waterfall after flying off a cliff on a bike), but one kind of rolls with it.  There are also a few questions (like who is in the cabin past the borders and are they aware of the world beyond), but those aren't deal-breakers.  Another dislike is Jonas' voice-over (and I'm never a fan of them), and that was a little harder for me to get into.

On the whole, The Giver is a much deeper and more intelligent film about those questions on the cost of the human experience than we've seen from other YA adaptations (think Twilight or even The Hunger Games).   One leaves The Giver asking about whether a world of bliss is worth the cost of actually living life.  I enjoyed this movie, and find it sad that it didn't do well.  Hopefully, people will give The Giver a chance.  


Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Truth About Our Parents


Few if any programs really balance the work and family lives of their characters, and it seems bizarre that the most accurate portrayal of the American family comes from a program where sleeper Soviet agents are our protagonists.  The Walk In keeps the focus on the curious domestic aspects of The Americans, putting the growing curiosity of the daughter and the tragedy of the Jennings' fellow spy's unknowing son into the evolving storyline of how work affects the family. 

Still reeling from the death of the Connors, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) remembers a promise she made to her fellow KGB agent Leanne (Natalie Gold) to deliver a letter to her son, Jared (Owen Campbell) telling him the truth about who his parents really were.  She is determined to honor that promise, over Philip's (Matthew Rhys) objections.  They, however, have work to do: investigate the new C & C cylindrical grinder that the U.S. is creating for their military.  As part of that investigation, they come across Derek (Dave T. Koenig), an employee whose suspicious of these 'officials'.  Without overtly threatening him, Elizabeth gets the information she wants, and also takes something else: a photo of Derek's youngest son, Danny.  He had shown her the pictures of his three sons, as calmly but with fear in his voice and face telling her they expected him for dinner that night.

Meanwhile, Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor), Philip and Elizabeth's daughter, goes to find that mysterious "Aunt Helen" that Elizabeth went to care for.  To her surprise, Helen DOES exist (Kathleen Chalfant) but at first says that Paige is "Shelley".  Later, "Aunt Helen" calls Philip, telling him Paige had come and visited.  On her way to Aunt Helen's house, Paige had met Kelly (Lizzy DeClement) on the bus and they became fast friends.  Philip makes his anger known about Paige's activities to her.   After visiting a still devastated Jared, Elizabeth decides to burn the letter instead.

Finally, in a minor subplot, Dameran (Erik Jensen), the titular walk-in, is an assassin who plans to kill representatives coming to a World Bank meeting.  FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) tracks him down and kills him, then later hops into bed with double agent Nina (Annet Mahendru) and tells her he loves her.  That, along with their tryst, goes dutifully into her report, while her Rezidentura co-worker Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin), continues to flirt with her.

After all the spying and bed-hopping, at the heart of The Walk In's brilliance is in the family dynamic.  Everywhere we turn, it isn't the intricacies of espionage that are the threats.  It's the domestic side.  There's Elizabeth's fears for her children and the agony of seeing Jared so tormented with the idea that if he had skipped going to the hotel pool (which Leanne had asked him to) his parents MIGHT have been alive.  There's Paige's growing suspicion that her parents are not telling her the truth, especially about her 'family'.  Stan has little concern that his extramarital affair is more than threatening his career.  Derek is faced with the real prospect of leaving his sons orphans. 

Every place we look at, it is the fears and hopes for the characters families that drives them more than loyalty to their particular country.  Even the squabbling the Jennings have about their decision early on not to associate with others now has repercussions.  Neither Philip or Elizabeth ever entertained the idea that Paige and Henry might find out who they really are, or that Paige and Henry themselves might be in danger.  Now with Paige getting more and more curious, the Jennings might find they have a new cause for concern other than the FBI.

Taylor is the standout in The Walk In, as we see Paige go from mere teenager to trying to make sense of all these various threads presented to her.  It looks like her investigations will be a growing storyline for Season Two, and we get a great preview here.  Taylor has great scenes that capture the evolution of her character, the scenes with her new friend Kelly being a highlight.  This being The Americans, I immediately began to wonder whether Kelly just happened to be there, or is part of the KGB itself.  It makes for great speculation.

Russell continues to shine as Elizabeth.  She and Koenig have a great interplay as Elizabeth never overtly threatens Derek, but everyone knows that Derek is in danger.  As threatening as Elizabeth is, we also see that she is highly conflicted about Jared. She masquerades as a child advocate to gain entry to Jared's temporary home, and seeing him collapse again at his guilt and agony breaks your heart, as does Elizabeth's understanding that revealing the truth about his parents would be something from which he probably will never recover from, if he barely recovers from this.  Campbell gives a brilliant performance as Jared, and seeing him and Russell together creates an impactful scene.

About the only thing in The Walk In that doesn't work is the actual 'walk in'. Unless that was a set-up for a greater storyline, getting the guy who wanted to betray his country killed the next episode does seem a bit of a time-waster.  Furthermore, what's all that rambling about Ronald Reagan not caring?  Who are you with: Occupy Wall Street?

Minus that, The Walk In had a great set of performances and hopefully sets things up for a great season. 

So tell me how your day went, Paige.
Do any good spying like your Mom & Dad?


Next Episode: A Little Night Music

Franklin & Bash, Where Are You?


Could it be that Franklin & Bash is pulling itself out of the mire it has found itself in after the disastrous season opener?  Good Cop/Bad Cop isn't exactly a return to the heady days when actual good episodes were to be found.  You'd have to go back to Season One to find a succession of actually interesting and smart cases.  The main case here is up their quirky ones and on the whole isn't bad.  However, we find that Good Cop/Bad Cop has one factor that elevates the episode.  It isn't Mark-Paul Gosselaar's Peter Bash.  It isn't Breckin Meyer's Jared Franklin. 

It's our favorite nemesis: Reed Diamond's Damien Karp, who continues to not only be my favorite character in Franklin & Bash, but shows that he should be the star of the show (or any show really).  At the very least, Good Cop/Bad Cop's subplot involving Damien and his uncle, Stanton Infeld (Malcolm McDowell) proved the most realistic and interesting part of Good Cop/Bad Cop, which given the low standards Franklin & Bash aims for, isn't all that much of a lofty goal, but there it is. 

This time, Jared and Peter are defending Dewey Barber (Daniel Roebuck), a slightly drippy-hippie who is being charged with trespassing.  Dewey claims the beach property he and the boys were at is his, and is countersuing media baron Robert Harcourt (Bruce Nozick) for attempting to take his property by encroachment.  Dewey, a Parrot-head (fan of Margaritaville singer Jimmy Buffett) abandoned his property as he kept going on tours, but not in enough time for him to abandon it completely.  He even at one point sent him a note (written on beer casing paper) telling Harcourt that what he was doing was 'not cool' (though the writing is indecipherable). 

Harcourt, however, knows how to play hardball.  He happens to have a cop, Officer Mueller (Vincent Ventresca) on his personal payroll, and Mueller delights in harassing the boys at every turn.  Right down to helping lock them up on trumped-up charges of 'animal abuse' (Mueller had entered the beach-house to witness lobster racing) and having his fellow rogue officers 'lose' their clothes, forcing them to conduct part of the trial in their jumpsuits.  For help against Mueller and his minions, they turn to an old ally: Officer Wendy (Kat Foster), who now is a McLain rather than a Cowell as she was last time we saw her.  She and Peter still have some emotions towards each other, but as far as we know, nothing will come of it.  However, as someone who takes her job seriously and who hates dirty cops, she wants to help.  However, the boys know she will become persona non grata should she rat out her corrupt officers.  What to do?  How will they win their case?

Booze? Check.  Broads? Check.  Brains?

In the subplot, Stanton Infeld is determined to land a whale (a major client) to get the firm back in order.  He finds one in Korean businessman Sato (Keone Young), but just as Infeld comes close to landing Sato, in comes his nephew.  Karp wants to take Sato for his firm.  "You're here trying to sign Sato as a client?" Infeld asks his nephew.  "No, no, no, no, no," Karp replies.  "I'm here trying to steal him from you."  Soon it becomes war to get Sato on board.  If it means Infeld revealing to Sato that his nephew once had a leaked video of him masturbating while asleep or that he killed Judge Dinsdale, so be it.  Despite all this, Sato at first agrees to go with Karp.  Karp, however, is angry, seeing this as another example of his uncle meddling in his professional life and making him look like, in his words, 'the Fredo of the family', an idiot who needs Infeld to step in and straighten things for Damien. 

Later, Damien is thrilled to learn Sato wasn't influenced by Infeld, but it's too late: Karp had turned HIM down and Sato already signed with Stanton Infeld, delighting Jared and Peter but obviously upsetting Damien.

Well, it looks like Reed Diamond, try as he might, cannot be denied as the real showcase in Franklin & Bash.  I think it has to do with the fact that he is the only real person here, and moreover Diamond has a magnificent way with lines.  When we first hear him, Karp has come in as Infeld metaphorically connects his struggle to land Sato with that of Captain Ahab.  A smirking Karp asks, "Oh, does this story end with you giving Herman Melville the idea for Moby Dick?"  Whether this was a snide comment about McDowell's age or a sign that Karp really has grown beyond tired of Infeld's bizarre ramblings, either way we see the logic to Karp's genuine rage. 

Damien Karp has wanted to be a judge all his life, and I think he would make a good one.  Perhaps not the most compassionate ones, but one who is both genuinely fair and competent.  However, he has this grudge against his uncle for his constant meddling, right down to taking the fall for Rachel King's embezzlement due to Infeld's 'sex addiction' rather than due to Karp's blundering.   Furthermore, Karp has a legitimate gripe that Infeld favors the two nitwits who constantly put the firm in danger rather than in his nephew, who has been loyal and endured a great deal of grief at their hands.  Franklin & Bash constantly pushes me to dislike Damien and root for Jared and Peter, but try as I might the opposite happens.  Peter and especially Jared come off as total jerks, Damien as merely stiff.

The interplay between Diamond and everyone is the highlight of Good Cop/Bad Cop, because everything else is pretty weak.  Foster is strong as the competent Wendy (though the last name switch is never explained, unless I misheard "Cowell" for "McLain", which is possible).  Given all the years these two nitwits have practiced, I'm surprised the police haven't struck back earlier, but there is something not-quite-believable about Mueller's omnipresence or how they know no one who can get at Mueller (Internal Affairs, I guess, is a myth).  It's a clear case of harassment but no one can do anything about it I guess. 

Some of the acting was pretty laughably bad.  Nevada Vargas and Haile D'Alan, as the two Department of Fish and Game Wardens come to arrest Jared and Peter, had this 'intense' style to their brief scene that came across as comical rather than serious.  It's a bad sign when you notice just how 'intense' they were trying to be when all they end up looking like is silly.  Mark Saul, as the fresh-out-of-law-school Assistant D.A. Darcell, was more interesting than the leads, coming across as an eager child trying to please and making the most of his comic turn. 

No, I take something back.  Roebuck was also amusing as the whacked-out Dewey, and it's a rarity to see him play someone so comically zonked out. 

We get the traditional 'we might be gay' bits (when speculating about trading places, the conversation ends with Peter wondering how he got 'inside' Jared) and the traditional 'humiliate Peter' bit (it is Peter, not Jared, who gets tasered in the ass and has the video to prove it). 

Good Cop/Bad Cop is actually a better Franklin & Bash episode than we've seen in the past few weeks.  Frankly, I have grown disillusioned with this show and think it is on its way out.  Maybe it will go for another year or two, but apart from its brilliant first season Franklin & Bash hasn't, with one or two exceptions, ever gone past an average score.  I personally am glad that Reed Diamond's Damien Karp has returned, and if Kevin Falls and Bill Chais had any sense, they would turn the show's focus over to him. 

Make the show about him, please!


Next Episode: Deep Throat

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hanks For the Kennedys

And The Betty White Gets Screwed Again!

Oh, Kennedy Center...why do you keep deliberately slipping into irrelevance?  In the past few years the Kennedy Center Honors went from saluting such figures as Ella Fitzgerald, James Stewart, Maria Tallchief, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ray Charles and Katharine Hepburn, to finding such illustrious honorees as Steve Martin, Oprah Winfrey, and Led Zeppelin.

For the record, I love Steve Martin, but even if I were the biggest Martin fan in the world, I would have said it would have been far too early to acknowledge him when he was so honored, but that is perhaps for another time.

While the Kennedy Center has had a few bumps in the past few years (the Led Zeppelin thing being perhaps the most outrageous, with the Center telling Hispanics to go F-Themselves when they had the temerity to question why in nearly thirty years they'd managed to find only two Hispanic honorees a close second), it looked like with a more open selection process and even invitations from the public for honorees things would improve.  Let's look if they have.

This year's honorees are:

Singer Al Green
Actor Tom Hanks
Ballet Dancer Patricia McBride
Musician Sting (why couldn't it be Gordon Sumner)
Comedienne Lilly Tomlin

Well, at least they got two women (and one gay person), but while this list isn't horrible it is also a bit 'meh'.  It isn't one that inspires great passion or excitement.

Lilly Tomlin?  I have a sense that most people under 40 have little to no idea who Lilly Tomlin is.  I think she was in a Muppet movie, and she was very funny in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, but is America jumping out of their chairs to salute Lilly Tomlin?

I don't mean to sound like I'm bashing Tomlin in particular or that she somehow isn't worthy, but in the 'calling a spade a spade' tradition, this newest batch ain't nothing to rush out and see.  However, if the Kennedy Center used THESE clips as part of the Tomlin tribute, then I'd DEFINITELY watch.

Foul language in clips.  Be warned.

Of course, they wouldn't, nor will they dwell much on Hanks' early years as a comic actor. They'll go on about Philadelphia and Forrest Gump (a film I absolutely detested the first AND second time I was made to watch, to where I was called 'un-American' for not liking that drivel), but will they show clips from his Criterion Collection-worthy Turner & Hooch or Dragnet (a personal favorite)?  I do get a sense they will have to mention when the Reverend Al Green had boiling grits thrown on him by an angry girlfriend while he was in the shower.  Talk about a downer...

Even more surprising, it's one of the whitest groups in the Center's history.  Having only one minority honoree doesn't necessary doesn't necessarily mean they are ignoring minorities (though maybe the failure to include Hispanics or more African-Americans is a backhanded compliment to the Annenberg Minority Study which found that there are few Hispanic or African-American characters on film and television and fewer black and Hispanic writer/directors, shocking absolutely no one).  I would just argue that this group is perhaps the most vanilla group, one where the appeal to non-whites is pretty limited.

When was the last time Sting had airplay on BET?  Apart from Misty Copeland, can anyone name an African-American prima ballerina currently performing? 

2013 Honorees:
Strength in Diversity

This isn't a terrible group on the whole.  I'd question the selection of Sting (who may be the first single-named honoree in the 37 year history of the event, for even B.B. King was billed as "Riley B.B. King" at the ceremony rather than by his stage name).  Sure, I like Sting's music, but shudder to think I'll have to hear someone play Fields of Gold (a pretty but frankly sleep-inducing number).  Well, who doesn't know Every Breath You Take?  One can only hope they don't go on about that tantric sex...

I do also question Hanks' inclusion.  No, he deserves to be honored, but we must be honest.  Isn't he a bit 'young' to receive this recognition (and yes, at 58 it does seem strange to say he's 'young')?  It doesn't help that Hanks has grown increasingly partisan, putting aside his "Loveable All-American" persona to stir up controversy.  There was his overt Obama-worship, which in itself wasn't wrong but it was the first time he became so enmeshed in politics when he had pretty much steered clear of such things.  Rather, it is in regards to his The Pacific miniseries, when he suggested American fought the Japanese because of racism on America's part; I guess that whole 'Pearl Harbor' thing was just a mild misunderstanding.  The internment of Japanese-Americans was wrong, immoral, and illegal, but it was also brought to you by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, liberal of liberals. Whatever flaws George W. Bush had (and he had many), at least HE didn't lock up Arab or Muslim-Americans in gulags like FDR did to "the Japs".

Maybe Hanks will get around to putting that in another "World War II was the only war worth fighting" production. 

The Kennedy Center could have honored Peter O'Toole (a better actor than Hanks).  Oh, wait...he's dead.  They could have honored Broadway veteran Elaine Stritch...oh, wait, she's dead too.  I'm sure they would have gotten around to it, once Led Zeppelin and Oprah Winfrey got their just desserts.  I'm sure they'll be plenty of time to honor 94-year-old Maureen O'Hara, 93-year-old Carol Channing, 92-year-old The Betty White, or 84-year-old Gene Hackman.

After all, none of them contributed much to American culture or are as big as Lilly Tomlin...

Again, this isn't a bad list per se.  Each certainly has achieved great things in the arts.  However, try as I might I can't work up great enthusiasm for seeing them honored.  I skipped the KCH two years ago.  That time, I did it out of protest over honorees David Letterman and Led Zeppelin (whom I felt both made a mockery of the Kennedy Center Honors goals).  I think I'll skip it this year too, only this time, out of sheer boredom.

No Class of Honorees will ever beat 1997, which I consider the greatest collection of talent ever honored in one year apart from the very first Kennedy Center Honors.  Sorry, Class of 2014, you'll never be as big or as great as these...

1997 Kennedy Center Honorees:
Dylan, Bacall, Villella, Norman, Heston.
Legends All...