The Husband:

No matter what your thoughts are on most of Entourage‘s sixth season, and oh man do I know a lot of people who were threatening to give up on the show this year, I think it ended on a very clear, concise note of an overarching theme that just took too long to get started. No matter what the flaws, the constant deviation away from the life of central character Vinnie Chase and his movie star woes, one remarkably poor casting decision, it wrapped up nicely, and season six came to be about the pros and cons of being impulsive. Everybody except Vince — who pretty much had no arc thanks to him already having a job to go to at the end of the season, shooting Frank Darabont’s Ferrari biopic — completely redefined their lives over the course of what seemed like a very short season, and while it couldn’t get to the heights of some of Entourage‘s best arcs, a lackluster season of this show is still an effortlessly watchable endeavor.

This was the year that we really got into the lives of “the guys,” and for better or worse, I’m glad it was able to dive so deeply. Eric, failing to get his management company off of the ground, takes a job at a bigger firm run by George Segal, gets a sweet-ass receptionist played by Brokeback Mountain‘s Kate Mara (who will definitely present some major opposition to E’s happiness next season) and already establishes himself as a dominate force against douchey Scott Caan. But his love life has become lazy, and his multi-episode back-and-forth with Alexis Dziena didn’t seem to amount to anything other than obnoxious scenes that went nowhere. And yes, Dziena sucked the life out of any scene in which she appeared, even though I can’t remember having a problem with her acting in the past in work such as Invasion and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But she was terribly miscast here, and her presence was only validated when E finished off the season declaring his love for Emmanuelle Chriqui’s Sloan and finally getting engaged. It took a long time to get going, but I’m fine with E’s story overall. His impulsiveness threatened to destroy two of his relationships, but it ended up working in his favor.

Turtle, meanwhile, got the best arc of the season, or at least the most sincere, in exploring his relationship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler after their canoodling last season. For the first time in a while, their relationship seemed to be built with a major dose of reality, and their problems — her jealousy, his wandering eye while studying business at UCLA, the long-distance dating problem that is part of the world of a wanted film and television actor — didn’t feel like the frat raunch fest mode that this show has a tendency to slip into. And upon their final break-up, Turtle’s impulsive decision to hop aboard a plane headed for New Zealand turned into humiliation, and here’s hoping that between this and his education, he can mature further into adulthood.

Drama’s story was the one I dreaded the most this season, because honestly I tend to roll my eyes at nearly everything he does nowadays. I’ve been sick of his shitty decision-making for seasons now, and his comic relief persona hasn’t rubbed me the right way the entire time. It’s one thing for the world to work against you, but it’s another to be the sole cause of all of your problems, whether you were an asshole in the past or an asshole in the present. His impulsive decision, based entirely around the word of somebody who could have easily fucked up his career just for kicks, to drop out of Five Towns (after his physical confrontation with that douche from Eli Stone, of course) only to see his Melrose Place audition nearly cause him a heart attack (no thanks to you, Dean Cain), was going to be the latest straw of self-destructive behavior. But for the most part, this show doesn’t like to keep its characters in hell, and while Drama suffered so much this season that he nearly quit acting, his MP audition got “the network” interested in creating a star vehicle just for him. The soul-searching came too late to really save the arc, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

And, of course, we have the saga of Ari versus Lloyd, whose pairing finally implodes when Ari so terribly tortures his assistant that Lloyd has no choice but to up and quit, moving on over to Malcolm McDowell’s company (and Ari’s former employer). It had been a long time coming, and the only way to break what was starting to become a tedious plot device (Lloyd does something good, Ari berates him, repeat) blossomed into something bigger and better. This led to Ari making some majorly ill-advised impulsive decisions when offered the chance to buy out McDowell and merge their companies, but his final decision to give in to a few ego-bruising demands made it all worthwhile. It’s still a bitch that Ari would even consider using his wife’s television money to make the deal, and that it was originally all for spite, and maybe you shouldn’t go around shooting paintballs at your new employees to indicate that the merger equals them losing their jobs, it was an emotional change for Ari nevertheless. It was also a considerably better story than last year’s moral quandary over whether or not he should have become a studio head.

No one likes you right now.

No one likes you right now.

Yes, some of the episodes didn’t add up, and the stalker mini-story fit into what Ebert would call the Idiot Plot where everything could have easily been solved had everybody not been a complete idiot. I don’t think I hate the golf episode as much as, say, my sister does, but the fact that I barely remember it doesn’t speak volumes for its quality either. It’s a pain in the ass to have Vinnie become a non-character on his own goddamn show, though, and Entourage always works better when he’s struggling for work, but it’s not like I hated anything he was doing.

But admit it, you really liked the episode where Zac Efron and Frank Darabont make some surprising (fake) revelations about themselves, the Aaron-Sorkin-visiting-Gary-Cole-in-jail episode was a better episode than it had any right to be, and Matt Damon outright stole the season finale.

With the show’s evolution comes the fact that we can’t simply see the same stories over and over again, and while showrunner Doug Ellin (who I didn’t realize played the asshole TV director until about an hour ago) doesn’t always know how to structure an episode as well as, say, James L. Brooks could, and he still has a bit of an emotional disconnect from his characters at the oddest times, he’s realized this fact. The stories may not be working at a 100% success fate, but in this day and age, I’ll settle for 75%. Besides, do you remember the first season, where nothing happened? That’s how you should weigh all seasons of Entourage, because it’s not the plot that matters, but the characters. Disagree if you wish, but I always look forward to another summer and another season.

But goddamn it, I wish they would have showed us at least one scene from Martin Scorsese’s Gatsby. We can all agree on that.


The Wife:

Eli Stone

Just a stones through from greatness.

Just a stone's throw from greatness.

I’ve written previously in my two (count ’em!) posts on Eli Stone this season about how I think the show lost some of its spark during the second season, but the most underwhelming parts of season two were, evidently, saved for last, to slowly peter out during this three-episode burn-off. To be honest with you, I’d forgotten a lot of this season simply because of the break between when I last watched and these remnants. Thus, nothing really stood out to me about them and they only served to reinforce my early assessments of what went wrong with the show. And keeping Maggie and Eli away from each other, while it did allow Maggie to come into her own (looking especially confident and sexy in the last episode) it lost a little bit of the spark from one of the most interesting relationships on the show, only to half-assedly rekindle it in the final episode’s desperate attempt for closure.

I actually found the whole central vision-mystery from the last episode to be extremely frustrating for two reasons, one complaint for each part of it:

1. The parents of the braindead girl who didn’t want to give up her heart to that dying woman are selfish idiots. I am not a religious or spiritual person, but I was raised Catholic and I can tell you that there are several flaws in their argument about “not wanting their daughter’s heart to burn in hell because it’s inside an atheist.” First of all, denying someone the chance to live is possibly the least Christ-like thing a so-called Christian could ever do. Second of all, Christianity believes in the soul, not the body. So if their daughter dies, she goes to God, not her body and not her organs. Certainly, if she signed up to be an organ donor, she is aware of that fact, and so are her parents who are executors to her will. This whole case was insanely stupid, and I’m glad Eli proved their idiocy by basically pointing out my first complaint that denying someone the chance to live because they have different beliefs than you do isn’t only discriminatory, but COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO YOUR SUPPOSED FAITH.

2. I guess Eli was busy using all his smarts and logic on that because he seemed COMPLETELY INCAPABLE of using it to interpret the plane crash part of his vision. He knew from the beginning it was a KeyStar air flight. He made a correct step in getting employee flight records after seeing the Weathersby Stone travel bags, but for some reason never made the connection between the name of the airline and what employees might be flying on that airline. Instead, he totally wasted Jordan, Taylor and Matt’s time by asking them not to board their flights. (Now, I suppose in the world of Eli Stone, KeyStar might be the ONLY airline, but I find that highly doubtful, as that would be an air travel monopoly and, surely, some client of WPK would have already sued them and broken up said air travel monopoly long before Eli turned over a new leaf.) Then, once he got the time and date of the crash in his next vision, he didn’t take any further steps toward, say, looking up KeyStar flights departing from SFO that day and figuring out, based on listed travel times, which ones would potentially be the ones that would crash. I realize he’d still look like a crazy person/terrorist if he called the TSA and gave them a list of specific flights to check, but it would also stand to reason that he might be able to better prevent the crash if he actually took the time to narrow down the field of possibilities.

Instead, we got a little deus ex machina with Maggie’s fateful voicemail announcing her receipt of the Weathersby Stone travel bag and her intended us of it during her flight to Italy, departing that day. I suppose I should be happy that it got him there in time to drop seemingly-dead, only to have him reunite with Maggie, who just happened to demand to be let off the plane before it took off due to her own hunch, which then caused a flight delay for another safety check, allowing the airport staff to find a safety problem with the plane, preventing it from blowing up and saving the lives of all of its passengers. I should also be happy that Eli’s burst aneurism didn’t kill him, although I guess he’s still got that second one in there, waiting to destroy him.

Then there’s also that who odd and problematic talk with God/his father, in which its revealed (yet more telling instead of showing) that the atheist he fought so hard to get a heart for ended up dying during her transplant, which miraculously and conveniently ended up giving that braindead girl’s heart to none other than Eli’s soul mate, Grace. Are they still soul mates now that Eli’s still got a deadly aneurism and Grace has a new heart that will allow her to live a normal life? And how does Grace figure in to last season’s vision of Maggie with a baby that is presumably Eli’s? I know this God-snowglobe ending was meant to tie up loose ends, but I feel like it mostly made a mess of things.

Harper’s Island

The next murder Im hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.

The next murder I'm hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.

I never got the chance to write about Harper’s Island prior to this, but I did watch the limited-run series in its entirety and enjoyed the show’s commitment to campy fun good times. You see, I like murder mysteries. In fact, every year, I host a murder mystery party at my house in which I invite some friends over for dinner and a 4-hour immersive role playing game with lots of improvised craziness and clue-solving. Watching Harper’s Island was exactly like playing one of my murder mystery dinners, only with a significant increase in the number of potential suspects and an ever-growing body count. (At my dinners, only one person dies. And they stay dead, unlike John Wakefield.) Clearly, I am inclined to like such a thing.

In the beginning, I thought the show wasn’t going to be as cool as it ended up being, and part of my problem was with the casting and the writing. Too many of the actresses looked the same, and didn’t seem to have distinct enough personalities. In fact, up until the near-end, I would sometimes confuse Bride Trish’s sister with her step-mother, and I’m glad Bridesmaid Lucy died so early on because otherwise, I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell her apart from Chloe (unless Chloe were in every scene with Cal, like he has was cute her British accessory, or something). But once certain unnecessary bodies were dispensed of, the key players really started to flesh themselves out and the show got good. I’d say this is when the cast was probably at a total of 10, just after Mr. Wellington’s encounter with that headspade that awakened everyone to the possibility that there was something other than a wedding going on on Harper’s Island. (Here I must insert that my murder dinners are meant for eight, which is a perfect number because these things are filled with a plethora of information to keep straight, and maintaining tidbits from any more than eight sources while drinking bottle after bottle of wine is exceptionally difficult.) Once we got down to a manageable number of characters, we started to explore Abby’s past with the island, the history of the Wakefield murders, her mother’s diaries, her father’s obsession and the possibility that she – or someone else – could have been John Wakefield’s love child.

I also became somewhat invested in the growing relationship between Chloe and Cal, and, subsequently, in the changes in their characters during this whole ordeal. At the beginning of the show, Chloe was an effervescent party girl who was nothing if not gorgeous, which is perhaps why I couldn’t tell her apart from Lucy. Cal, on the other hand, was a fish-out-of-water Englishman, a man a bit too posh and uptight for seafaring life in the Pacific Northwest, constantly picked on by other party guests and locals because of his difference and because a girl like Chloe had no business being with a man like that. But as they found themselves in the midst of danger, Cal and Chloe stuck together. She got a lot tougher and a lot smarter, and he likewise proved his mettle by employing his medical knowledge (from working as a mortician, I believe), to help the survivors figure out facts relating to bodily injuries and their causes, as well as patching up certain wounds and instructing others how to patch up his own. Nothing cemented their growth more for me, though, than Cal’s death at the hands of John Wakefield and Chloe’s defiant swan dive to join her would-be fiancé in the river below, growling, “You can’t have me,” just before she takes the plunge. Beginning-of-the-series Chloe wouldn’t have done that for Cal, but end-of-the-series Chloe did.

Now, about that John Wakefield love child. As it turns out, that love child ended up being Wakefield’s accomplice, and it isn’t Abby, but her childhood best friend, Groom Henry, who reveals to her (after kidnapping her and murdering his father and anyone else still alive except for hostage Jimmy) that he set up this whole thing (including his fake relationship and fake wedding to Trish . . . ouch!) to lure Abby back to the island so they could be together . . . even though they’re technically siblings . . . which is really creepy, but doesn’t seem to bother Henry at all. I don’t understand why he kept Jimmy alive to allegedly pin the title of “Wakefield’s accomplice” on, especially after going through all the trouble to stage the burning deaths of Trish, Abby, Jimmy, Wakefield and himself. Even with “Wakefield’s accomplice” alive somewhere, it’s doubtful that the Washington State police would dig further into people “proven dead” or go digging about on an even more remote part of the island to look for said accomplice. So to take someone hostage and force them to write a false confession? This strikes me as very bad planning on Henry’s part, especially since his only post-massacre plan was to hole up in a really sweet house with Abby for the rest of their days, living out a warped little domestic fantasy and hoping she developed Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, keeping Jimmy as a hostage is just a handy plot device so freaked-out Abby can find him, thus making her even more freaked-out and so Jimmy can find a reason to break free from his restraints and launch himself at Henry, thus taking him out with a very large boat knife and allowing Jimmy and Abby to ride off on a state police boat into the Puget Sound sunset.

But all in all, I had a lot of fun watching this show, delighting in the ever-growing body count, the inventive, nautical deaths and the various murder mystery tropes and red herrings dropped along the way. I wish the series had been more of a success, though, because I like the idea of these limited-run series. As my friend Drew wrote, they definitely solve the problem of Twin Peaks Season 2, and other series with a central mystery that outlived the story they’d planned to tell. (Joss Whedon was always very good at keeping each Big Bad around for only one season, and any subsequent seasons would deal with a new and different evil.) Plus, it was kind of like having a murder mystery at my house, only without all that cooking and planning. I’d have been interested to see other incarnations, especially because Creepy Little Madison was already poised as a natural successor to Abby as a Wakefield survivor for the next edition of murders in and around the Pacific Northwest.

The Husband:

As usual, my wife catches me with this article just when I’m getting extremely busy at work, so I can’t contribute very much, but I will agree with pretty much everything she said about both shows.

In a little way, I think I enjoyed the final four episodes of Eli Stone more than my wife simply because of some of the nice character development, but was left scrambling to reach for my iPhone and look up character names as they were mentioned, because a several months-long break between episodes kind of destroys any concept of who is named what. (This doesn’t happen to quality shows like Mad Men or anything on HBO, but that’s because they’re sweet programs that dare you to forget their characters.)

As for Harper’s Island (which I almost accidentally typed as Herpes Island, which is the inevitable porn spin-off), this was the perfect show to watch out of the corner of one’s eye while playing Peggle and Unblock Me on my nifty little Apple phone. (I plug! You give me money!) I had an even harder time telling the characters apart, but basically because I never bothered to learn their names in the first place. Except for Abby. (Yes, I forgot Henry’s name, even though the actor played a very memorable Harry on Ugly Betty over the last three years.)

More importantly, I don’t think there was one point in the entire series where either my wife or I ever bothered to venture a guess as to who was going to be the killer. No clues followed. No online community message board chats. I just watched until the next kill or the next shot of a scantily clad Chloe. (By the way, this Alvin & the Chipmunks actress, Cameron Richardson, has done her share of tasteful nude photography, so go forth and view.) Once during the final three episodes I jokingly guessed that it would be Madison, which, to be fair, wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world. Just implausible.

More limited series, I ask, and networks could take a lesson from CBS sticking to this show, even if it was shifted from Thursday at 10 to Saturday at 10. To think, would Taye Diggs’ Day Break have developed more of a cult following had ABC allowed it to finish out its run? The world will never know.

The Husband:

Prison Break is an extremely fun show, but sometimes I catch myself getting way more into it than I think the show often deserves. I don’t necessarily know how good of a show it is. The plots make very little sense, the coincidences are too staggering to take seriously, the characters bounce in and out of personalities whenever the story calls for it and even the showrunners and writers seem to constantly write themselves into corners and sometimes fail to ever come out of said corner.

But I dig it. I really, really dig it. I have never had a problem with suspending my disbelief, because I can get into premises quite easily with nary a care. Each movie, each play, each show is allowed to create its own world, even if that world looks a good deal like ours. I’ll never understand Herc over at AICN, who easily accepts the vampires and demons world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer but can’t get over the fact that at the beginning of Prison Break, when Michael Scofield held up a bank just to get sent to prison and thus try to free his brother from death row, he just happens to get sent to the correct prison where his brother is incarcerated instead of the many other prisons in the Chicago area.

Get over it. It’s entertainment. It can do whatever the hell it wants.

Oh, and those of you who have issue with the title of the show itself, how it’s called Prison Break and yet after season 1 they were already broken out of prison, get over that too. It doesn’t matter to me one lick. I don’t get pissed when The Office moves outside of the office set and into other locations, so it really shouldn’t matter that in s2 Michael, Lincoln and the gang are racing across the country to get to a big pile of money, or in s4 that they are working with a Homeland Security agent to recover several missing pieces of a big information hub known as Scylla (which, while a badass name, has seemingly nothing to do with its ancient namesake).

Hell, the show could be called Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops and I wouldn’t really care. (Well, I’d care just a little bit. That’s a sweet-ass name.) In other words, get over it. The show is still the show.

I’m going to be one of the few exceptions to popular opinion, but I thought that s3 of Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops (formerly known as Prison Break) was pretty fucking awesome, and far better than s2. While s2 very slyly worked several disparate storylines as they bounced in and out of each other’s trajectories and upped the stakes, especially in regards to Lincoln’s frame job regarding the death of the Vice President’s brother, as well as Patricia Wettig’s rise to power as the President of the United States, some of the magic of the first season forget to break out with the gang. By the end, though, everything had become so intense that it was almost overwhelming, including the death or capture of at least six major characters.

We aint mopey, okay? You have a full-body tattoo lasered off and you tell me how it feels.

We ain't mopey, okay? You have a full-body tattoo lasered off and you tell me how it feels.

In the highly underrated third season, Michael, T-Bag, Bellick and Mahone end up stuck in a Panamanian prison (why? I was never completely certain), which acted as a sort of tropical Oz (as in that HBO prison show with all the race wars and the buttfucking, not that Judy Garland movie with all the race wars and the buttfucking). In this overheated hellhole, Bellick lost all power he ever had as a prison guard, Mahone nearly lost his soul after unintentionally weaning himself off of his crazy pills, T-Bag nearly became the lord of the prison and Michael…well…Michael has pretty much been the same character for four seasons now. But the political power struggle within the walls of the prison was top-notch thriller television, thanks especially to The Wire’s Robert Wisdom as the villainous Lechero (which sounds like the best villain name ever until you realize it means “milkman”). And the stuff on the outside was just as good, as Lincoln and Sucre battle Susan/Gretchen and her blackmail scheme to get her own man, Whistler, out of the same prison on a very strict deadline. It was a great mini-season, and it further proves the idea that more American television should limit their seasons to 10-13 episodes and then let another show take its spot in their opposite season (i.e. fall/spring and vice versa).

When s4 rolled around this year, however, I really wasn’t into it. The show had listened to the fans more than they listened to their brains and brought back Dr. Sara Tancredi as a love interest for Michael, even though she got her head cut off midway through s3. (The show’s explanation? Kind of lame.) It also decided, after some spectacular and out-of-the-ordinary location shooting for the first three seasons (the majority of the first three seasons were shot in the Chicago and Dallas areas as well as some extra Florida shooting), to finally film the show in and around Los Angeles, thus rendering the show a little bit less special.

I’ll be honest. For about five episodes I was surprised to find myself not having any interest in the team nor their task. While I like Michael Rapaport and still do, I found his Homeland Security agent Donald Self to exist completely outside of the PB universe and felt the actor wasn’t taking it seriously. I also, after years of defending the show’s out-there plot contrivances (as you have seen in this post), was not really accepting T-Bag’s personality shift as he takes on a false identity and begins working for a mysterious company that seems to have actually very little purpose. (How did he get this new identity? He followed the clues in Whistler’s bird book, which I also cannot entirely explain.) And no, I was not feeling the Michael/Sara romance.

But as the season progressed, and Gretchen was basically resurrected from the dead, I found myself once again a victim to the ticking clock thrills of this show, the inane plot twists, the remarkable amount of violence and the completely unbelievable amount of technological knowledge Michael seems to possess. Suddenly I didn’t care that Mahone had gone from a completely fucked-in-the-brain FBI agent and murderer to righteous mercenary, that Bellick had become a good guy, that Lincoln had suddenly grown a brain, and that T-Bag really was ready to become a better person. Frankly, it didn’t matter, because really cool shit was happening onscreen.

I think that’s how I can honestly describe most great episodes of PB – really cool shit happening onscreen. Self’s sudden shift from Homeland Security agent to traitorous dickbag? Cool shit happening onscreen. The team’s final break-in to retrieve the Scylla hub? Cool shit happening onscreen. Michael’s sudden brain disease that went unmentioned until this season? Well…not so cool.

Now that the fall season is done, what will happen next? I know the show is suffering in its ratings, and I feel that it can definitely and organically finish itself off this season, but I damn well want to know what’s going to happen to Michael and his recently-under-surgery brain, his thought-dead mother’s involvement with the mysterious Company, and if Lincoln is ever going to see his son again.

Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops, you make me giggle with your absurdity. Why can’t people understand my love for you? I know Stephen King does as evidenced in an Entertainment Weekly column this year, and he too has a great deal of trouble explaining the show at times. Whatever. A thrill is a thrill, and if some logic is going to be lost to reach that thrill, then I’m all for it.

But please, make Michael just slightly less mopey. Please?

The Husband:

All things considered, this was definitely a weak season of Entourage. There’s no way around saying it – the first half of the season was meandering, depressing, unfunny and (worst of all) uninteresting. As I mentioned in my last “checking in on Entourage” post, unemployed Vincent is not really must see TV by any means, as Vinnie has always really just been a catalyst for all the other characters, a straight arrow main character with nary a personality. This is not to see Adrian Grenier is not good as Vinnie Chase. In fact, I think he’s great at playing this kind of aw shucks movie star who can fill movie theatres and draw the attention of many women around Los Angeles and yet proceeds to just…exist…and not much else. It’s a hard role to play and I think people mistake his ability to play nonchalant as an inability to act.

But yes, an unemployed Vinnie is an uninteresting Vinnie, so it was great to see him finally get a job near the end as one of the firefighters in Smokejumpers (a.k.a. Nine Brave Souls). Unfortunately, that production went up in flames when Vinnie clashed with costar Jason Patric and director Werner (Stellan Skarsgard), leading to a fallout between the crazy German director (with his overblown budget) and the studio (who decided to cut their losses and halt production indefinitely).

(No thanks to Entertainment Weekly’s Jessica Shaw for ruining that plot by revealing too much in her TV Watch two issues ago.)

Apply directly to the forehead.

Vinnie Chase: Apply directly to the forehead.

Distraught at an entire television season of failure, Vinnie and the gang return to their native turf of Queens to really take a look at themselves to see where they are at, in their lives, in their careers, as themselves. Vinnie and Eric almost ruin their friendship over trying to get Vinnie an audition for a Gus Van Sant movie currently filming in New York, but make up when they realize that their camaraderie is more important than any Hollywood bullshit. (i.e. the driving force of Entourage, which is its heart and not its excess.)

Since the season comes in at a C+/B-, it would have been a shame to see the show go out on anything other than an extremely high note, so I’m glad that HBO will continue to produce episodes. At the same time, however, this final episode of s5 would have thematically been a great place to wrap up this dramedy. Turtle finally has a steady and loyal girlfriend (Jamie-Lynn Sigler as herself), Drama is now co-owner of a New York City bar, Eric finally lands a mega-deal establishing himself as an agent/manager worth noticing and Vinnie, in the final moments of the episode, is offered the lead in a Scorsese movie (based entirely on the scrapped Smokejumpers dailies). By returning to where it all began and finally giving the characters what they need – in some form or another – is a happy ending for all and not a bad way to go out, storywise.

About that Scorsese movie – it’s apparently a retelling of The Great Gatsby but modernized and set in the Upper West Side, and Vinnie has been tapped to play Nick Carraway. Upon first hearing about the project, a few things put me off until I got over myself and just accepted them. First, the real Great Gatsby is set mere miles from Manhattan and wondered about why the switch, but then I supposed that Long Island really isn’t, for all intents and purposes, as hot socially as it was back in the Roaring ‘20s (save for the Hamptons, which wouldn’t have really fit the story anyway). Then I thought…Vinnie isn’t good enough of an actor to play Carraway, especially in a Scorsese movie, but then realized that, hey, DiCaprio hasn’t been great under Scorsese’s care either (coughgangsofnewyorkcough) and so I just kind of accepted it. Vinnie is a bit of a cipher, and so is Nick Carraway. Vinnie has spent most of his life pretending to be rich and popular as opposed to actually being rich and popular – seriously, how many times has Vinnie been hard up for cash in the entirety of this series? – and was raised in a nonglamorous society, much like Carraway. (Queens isn’t the Midwest, but still, you get my drift.)

So, I decided that he was actually perfect for the role. Gatsby, no, but Carraway, yes. We’ll see how it turns out.

(Yes, I’m weighing the merits of a fake movie. If the show is going to attempt verisimilitude, I have a right to do so, dammit.)

So I simply hope the writers can take a step back and rethink their show for next season. Make us care more. Make it fresh again. Make us actually give a shit about Johnny Drama. But please…no more cousin Dom. He’s a terrible character.

The Husband:

Since the show is in its fifth season and really shows no signs of slowing down, I decided to take a step back with Entourage and only comment when I felt I really needed to, so here I am checking in on Doug Ellin’s HBO comedy about a laid-back movie star and his Hollywood exploits, flanked on all sides by his brother and his best friends.

And boom goes the dynamite . . .

And boom goes the dynamite . . .

After a good opening couple episodes, this season really started to drop for me, but not nearly as much as everyone else online and in other forms of media. People were really hating on it for a good long while, but I still think the nadir of the series is the first few episodes of s3 where they deal with the juggernaut that is Aquaman and its release.

Here, they just seemed to tread water, going all s1 on us and involving the viewers in Vinnie Chase’s dating life, which is never really my favorite. And even when they did this season, it was half-assed. (Hey Entourage, don’t get Leighton Meester to return to the show as a rising pop star, have Vinnie declare his love for her, then only use her for one episode and never have her show up again.) I was also worried about the Giovanni Ribisi/Lukas Haas screenwriter story because in all honesty it was looking like it was going to shape up into another Billy Walsh situation of egomaniacs defending every single one of their wrong decisions.

I did, however, like the “Let’s Go To Joshua Tree And Eat Mushrooms” episode, even though it was at the service of Vinnie deciding whether or not to choose to do a Benji movie, which we knew would never happen.

I must say that after years of defending him and his buffoonish ways, I am finally sick and tired of Johnny Drama’s shenanigans. It’s amusing to see him get himself into tricky predicaments, but somewhere along the line he decided to become Vinnie’s unofficial acting coach and is simply spreading his bad luck everywhere. (The episode where he was on The View and broke down crying after they brought up his recent break-up with the French girl was pretty awful, to boot.) He needs a serious retooling, because otherwise he’s going to drag the show down much, much further.

Three episodes ago, though, it all really started to pick up, because the Entourage I like is the one about moviemaking, plain and simple. Though Vinnie had completely burned his bridges with Warner Bros. after choosing Medellin over Aquaman 2, Ari accidentally gives the studio head a fatal heart attack, and is then asked by the studio’s owner’s conglomerate (for once, Alan Dale shows up not to have a heart attack but to talk about someone else having a heart attack) to take over. The two-episode machination of Ari’s decision was simply great television, a view into the bizarre world of Tinseltown and how hard decisions get made and how quickly one must make them. It was harsh without being nasty as Ari fucked over Carla Gugino’s agent character in her bid for the studio head position and instead showed loyalty to producer and former lover Dana, thus ensuring that he had a trustworthy ally at the studio that could help to make his clients’ dreams come true. (My favorite line of the season is Dana’s response to this good news: “I swear, I’ll rub your cock like it’s 1990.”) Good move, Ari. You’d never survive as a studio chief despite all the money that would be coming your way.

I also appreciate the show when it finds a middle ground between fortune-fucking and adherence to real Hollywood stories, so while Vinnie and E had to make some compromises to get Vinnie into the ensemble for the firefighter film Smokejumpers (the Ribisi/Haas script formerly known as Nine Brave Souls), it launched us as viewers directly into the chaos of filmmaking itself. It’s a roller coaster out there, alright.

I appreciate that we’re getting an extended look at the movie itself being made, because the show has a tendency to avoid such big stories. Queens Boulevard was filmed between s1 and s2, Aquaman between s2 and s3, and Medellin between s3 and s4 (with the first s4 episode giving a fairly good recap of all that happened, but not enough). It’s exciting, to say the least.

Now, the big question is whether or not Vinnie can stand up to Jason Patric for stealing his lines and confront the director (Stellan Skarsgaard being hilarious) over his haphazard and unrehearsed directorial style without getting fired in the process. Unemployed Vinnie Chase is pretty boring, and I would think that Ellin and all of his writers would want to avoid boring us interested viewers.

Three more episodes left in this season, and hopefully it can go out with a bang. Smokejumpers all the way.

A Pushing Daisies quickie . . .

The Wife:

Once again, Pushing Daisies is filled with wonderful dialogue. Some I liked from this episode:

  • “How lucky am I to be alive in a world with sun-dappled anything.” —Chuck, remarking on her new beginning in her new apartment.
  • “Pigby enjoyed the warbling sounds that the nice smelly thing that fed him made.” — Narrator on Olive’s conversations with Pigby
  • “It’s a traveling circus, not a ‘wait around ’til you two work all your junk out’ circus.” — Emerson to Ned and Chuck
  • “Remember, there are two things clowns make around here: balloon animals and enemies.” — The Acrobat

Chuck’s interrogation of Sweet Nikki Heaps’ friend was truly incredible, too, but far too hard to quote. Also incredible and impossible to quote was the reanimation of Sweet Nikki Heaps’ recently dead mime boyfriend. Not a whole lot of information about one’s demise can be mimed, it seems.

Like me, Emerson Cod hates clowns.

Like me, Emerson Cod hates clowns.

While the site of dozens of dead clowns truly tickles this clown-hating (but circus-loving) writer, there were two things that I found very disappointing about this episode. Firstly, this season is getting a little light on Ellen Green. I realize that her sister Swoosie Kurtz has the big story and the eye patch and all that, but I like slightly dotty and gullible Aunt Vivian and I wish to see more of her this season rather than the entire minute of screen time she got in this episode. I was also severely disappointed by Chuck’s wardrobe in this episode. I understand the costumer’s decision to make her look a little circus-y for this one and put her in late 60s/early 70s-style brights and madras plaids, but I miss my dress-loving 50s/60s Chuck, so I’m glad they decided to bring her back with that Audrey Hepburn-esque red dress and white polka dot scarf number at the end of the episode.

Also, I’ve never before realized that Ned, Chuck and Olive all lived above The Pie Hole. That’s super convenient. Like how my grandfather used to live above his grocery store in Brooklyn.

The Husband:

I’ll excuse my wife’s bizarre oversight that, yes, of course they all lived right above the Pie Hole, because in all actuality for the first two episodes of this show s1 I was staggeringly drunk and had to rewatch both episodes online so as not to miss anything.

Me, I’m not at all a clown-hater, so I was all for this insane episode that a small part of me wished had starred every cast member of HBO’s dearly departed psychobabble mythological-bugfuck drama Carnivale. I love me some Lee Arenberg (Pintel from the Pirates trilogy) but it would have been that much sweeter had the character been played by Michael J. Anderson (you know, the small guy from Twin Peaks).

I’m glad that Emerson Cod is becoming a bigger part of the show as far as his own missing daughter-searching arc is concerned, because I like how while all this insane Burton-esque craziness with Ned, Chuck Olive and the sisters is going on, there’s a smaller, sadder piece of the show that is now fitting right into the puzzle. Now people can stop complaining that he feels like he’s on a different show. Chi McBride doesn’t like it when you talk smack about him. He’ll make you his bitch. Don’t believe me? Watch Let’s Go To Prison.

The Wife:

Let’s get this out of the way: I enjoyed the 15-minute promo for Alan Ball’s new HBO show, True Blood, much more than I enjoyed the actual show. The promo was a 60 Minutes-style news segment chronicling The Great Revelation, a social and political movement through which Vampires (I feel they must be capitalized here, like the French or the Yu’pik) revealed themselves to be living (as much as Vampires can be alive) amongst the Human population and that, due to a new synthetic blood engineered by the Japanese called Tru Blood, they no longer pose a threat to Humans and will coexist peacefully without feeding on them. The promo introduced viewers to the sociopolitical milieu of the show, detailing the process of the Great Revelation, the Vampire Rights issues affecting the world, Vampire prejudice, Vampire sex fetishists called Fangbangers and the sale of Vampire blood on the black market as a powerful aphrodisiac.

The Great Revelation draws some pretty evident parallels to the Stonewall Revolution, in which the LBGT community became a more vital part of the American consciousness. Characters even refer to the Great Revelation colloquially “coming out of the coffin.” The Vampire characters are often identified on sight in the deep Southern Louisiana town in which the show takes place, as often LBGT people are judged as such because they conform to a certain physical stereotype. (I don’t know what that stereotype would be, but I’m sure we can all think of some ideas.) The pilot was laced with little news clips from a Vampire rights attorney that parallel certain gay rights issues facing the country today. It’s all pretty obvious what writer Alan Ball is trying to accomplish here.

Seriously, dont ingest your neighbor. You dont know where theyve been.

Seriously, don't ingest your neighbor. You don't know where they've been.

Other than that, I don’t have much to say about the pilot. I will probably keep watching this show for a little bit because I like vampires and I enjoy different writerly usages of this well-known mythical figure. As I’ve mentioned, I’m currently watching Joss Whedon’s Angel, a spin-off of Buffy in which her true love Angel, the Vamp with a Soul, moves to Los Angeles and becomes a P.I. I did watch the entirety of the could-have-been-so-much-better Moonlight, another show about a Vampire detective in Los Angeles. (I wonder, wherever did they get that idea?) I’ve read Dracula more times than I care to mention. I even own a copy of it with illustrations by Edward Gorey. I used to be a Goth in high school. In short, if it involves Vamps, chances are, I’ll watch it.

But despite the great-if-obvious gay rights arc that frames the True Blood universe, I’m not sure how much I enjoy the show over all. My main problem, I think, lies in its main character, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) a waitress at a swamp bar who can read people’s minds but would rather not admit it. Because her brain is often filled with other people’s thoughts, many seem to think she’s slightly retarded. She certainly acts like she is, but I can understand how frustrating not having a thought to yourself would be. That would drive anyone slightly batty and make them act as though their synapses fired a little more slowly than others. I understand Sookie’s attraction to the Vampire she meets, Bill, because his are the only thoughts she cannot read. With Bill, Sookie can finally have a quiet mind and be somewhat normal. I like Paquin as an actress, but there’s something about how she fits into this role that doesn’t quite work for me. Her Sookie is mostly just really annoying. I know Paquin is better than this. Just watch HurlyBurly, where she is the wisest teenage transient prostitute you will ever meet.

This episode did have some hardcore, pretty disturbing Vamp on Human sex. And I’ll give it a chance if I can see some more of that. It’s HBO, so I’m sure I will.

The Husband:

When all is said and done, one word will be used to describe the series premiere of True Blood – uneventful. While setting up its handful of overly quirky characters amidst a quirky setting – Podunk with a capital “P” backwoods Louisiana – and a quirky infusion of Vampire lore, it sort of forgot to tell an actual story.

As usual, I can’t in all good conscience get mad at the episode for a lack of real forward momentum, but in the last few years, pilots have adopted a sort of put-up-or-shut-up approach. While not shoving everything into their first episode, they make damn sure you have a general understanding of what the show shall entail and give you a great story in the meantime. Just last week, Fringe took a full 95 minutes to basically air a self-contained movie, one with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with an immersive understanding of the characters in question. Pushing Daisies did something similar with only an hour. So did Journeyman. So did Heroes. So did many many other shows.

I shouldn’t be complaining, I know, because comparing HBO to regular network TV is like comparing apples to HP microchips. In network TV, you are only guaranteed a 13-episode order, and even then your program could get pulled in under 6 episodes due to crap ratings. With cable, you are almost 100% guaranteed a full season without much interference until the end rolls around, and in the case of HBO, they seem to almost demand – and accept – that your story could take far more than one mere season. But look at Deadwood or Carnivale. We got a fuckload of information from both of their pilots, got a general understanding of the future of each show, and got just enough to want to tune in again.

But something like HBO’s The Wire – basically one of the best shows ever created – never really had three-act structures to their episodes and instead extended that storytelling “formula” to each season instead. So really…what the fuck do I know? I guess it’s all in how you do it.

True Blood basically provided us with the bare minimum of what we needed to know. Sookie is a psychic. Vampires exist. Shit is happening. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. But if I told you that I could surmise a full-season arc from the information given, I’d be a liar. Sookie wants Bill the Vampire’s dong. Sookie runs afoul of some drug dealers who also deal in Vampire blood. Sookie’s brother is wanted for questioning involving the death of a hot naked redhead. That’s about it. Everything else is completely character-driven.

Sookie and Bill, sittin' in a tree, f-a-n-g-i-n-g.

Sookie and Bill, sittin' in a tree, f-a-n-g-i-n-g.

Now when I say “character-driven,” believe me, I do not mean that I don’t want well-rounded individuals on my programs. Quite the opposite. That’s what gets me hooked in regards to the best shows ever produced. But when it’s all character and no story, I can get a little restless. But I have better patience for cable dramas than I would with network ones, so giving True Blood a full season of attention isn’t asking for too much. (Not to mention how having it OnDemand frees up our DVR like you wouldn’t believe.)

Quick note: Within four days, I have seen actress Jessica Stroup in three separate projects. On Thursday, we watched 90210, where she plays Silver. On Friday, I unfortunately watched the risible “remake” of Prom Night, where she plays Claire. And yesterday, we watched her in True Blood’s opening scene as “Sorority Girl.” As my wife proclaimed, “Stroup! Get off my TV!”