TV REVIEWS

GAME OF THRONES S04E01

"Two Swords"

GAME OF THRONES 4x01 - Two Swords

It may seem a strange thing to say about a massively successful TV show with three full seasons already under its belt, but this season will be make-it-or-break-it time for HBO's Game of Thrones. Executive Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said that when they originally envisioned building a TV series around George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the event that called to them most strongly was the Red Wedding. ("When we read the books, we knew we just wanted to get to this scene, and do this 'holy shit' moment justice," Weiss has said.) In the penultimate episode of Season Three, "The Rains of Castamere," Benioff and Weiss finally got to do that moment justice, and bring the main storyline that had begun back in Episode One to a shattering, irreversible climax.  Continue reading

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TRUE DETECTIVE GREETING CARDS

When You Care Enough to Send the Very Bleakest

True-Detective-Greeting-Cards

Though I haven't been reviewing it, The Unenthusiastic Critic and I have been watching HBO's True Detective, and we find ourselves continually impressed by the overall excellence of the show, the strength of the performances, and the quality of the writing.

Most of all, however, we keep coming back for the irrepressible happiness of its world-view. It's really hard to think of another show that is so consistently upbeat, optimistic, and life-affirming. True Detective is just one of those stories that makes you feel good about humanity, good about the world, and good about being alive. With only one episode left, we're already trying to figure out what we can replace it with to get our our weekly injection of edification. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO – 2013 Christmas Special

"The Time of the Doctor"

DOCTOR WHO - "The Time of the Doctor"

As I've already discussed at some length, the 50th Anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor," which aired just a few short weeks ago, was the culmination of everything executive producer Steven Moffat had set out to do in his first three series of Doctor Who. That episode was not perfect, but it was a triumph: a satisfying fulfillment of what I've called the "Moffat Masterplan," and a bold reinvention—or restoration?—of the series as a whole. Without disrespecting everything that previous showrunner Russell T. Davies had done to not only resurrect Doctor Who but to turn it into a massively successful worldwide phenomenon, Moffat had spent three years carefully addressing some of the more problematic aspects of Davies' legacy. "The Day of the Doctor" was the final bit of major rejiggering, and it succeeded in undoing the darkest moment in the Doctor's personal character arc, rescuing some key elements of the classic series that Davies had jettisoned, and bringing all 50 years of Doctor Who into glorious agreement. History, I believe, will remember Davies as the man who salvaged Doctor Who from the scrapyard of television history, and it may well remember Moffat as the man who lovingly restored the show's engines to their original specifications. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO – 50th Anniversary Special

"The Day of the Doctor"

Billie Piper, David Tennant, John Hurt, Matt Smith, and Jenna Coleman

Warning: Contains spoilers for this and previous episodes of Doctor Who.

It seemed almost inconceivable that "The Day of the Doctor," the long-awaited 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, could possibly live up to the hype and expectations it had generated: it simply had to do too much. There were too many elements to interweave, too many themes to address, too many audiences and interests to satisfy in order to pay proper homage to the five-decade history of this insane, beloved institution. How could it be anything other than a disappointment?   Continue reading

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MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD 1×03

Skye (Chloe Bennet) in "The Asset"

"There will come a moment when you have to commit to this or bail," Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) tells Skye (Chloe Bennet) in "The Asset," and he might as well be speaking to all us viewers and reviewers.

To be honest, I haven't completely decided whether to commit to Agents of SHIELD or bail, so I'm going to keep it short this week. Continue reading

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MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD
Season 1, Episode 2: "0-8-4"

Ming-Na Wen in AGENTS OF SHIELD 1x02, "0-8-4"

This week, we continue our ongoing coverage of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. While my first review was mostly spoiler-free, this and future posts will discuss anything occurring on-screen in episodes aired to date. (So watch the episode first.)

"They just need time," Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) says this week of his newly assembled team of agents, and for now I'm inclined to agree with him.

"0-8-4," the second episode of Agents of SHIELD, is not a quantum leap forward for the series—I doubt anyone is proclaiming this a classic to rival the best of Joss Whedon's work yet—but I'm starting to see some encouraging signs. This week's episode actually seemed like it was inching towards being a show I could invest in.  Continue reading

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MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D
Season 1, Episode 1: "Pilot"

With this post, we begin our weekly coverage of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As the inaugural review—and in deference to people who may not have watched it yet—this post is largely spoiler-free.

"So, what did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D?"

A few different people have asked me that question today. (They've probably asked other people as well, but—since I'm a documented Joss Whedon fan who also purports to be a TV critic—I'm supposed to have a fairly thoughtful answer.) The short answer, however, is this: I don't know yet.

A longer answer follows, but it's just a more elaborate way of saying "I don't know yet." Based on the pilot episode, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a fun, polished, super-powered police procedural—not so different from any number of others—and the kind of show I wouldn't necessarily remember to watch. It's got some wit, and it's got some moves, but it's only my trust in Joss Whedon that will make me stick around long enough to see if it has a soul. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E10

"Mhysa"

GAME OF THRONES 3x10-"Mhyssa"

There are a lot of lofty words bandied about on Game of Thrones, words that define characters, determine behavior, and justify courses of action. Honor is one of those words. Duty is another. Allegiance, justice, and right all get their fair share of play. But, in the rigidly structured Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, perhaps the most important word is family. Family is not an abstract concept, a biological relationship, or a term of affection: it's a political and economic unit, a system of government, a definer of class and custom and code. Bloodlines are borders in Westeros, and who you are is determined by one thing alone: who you are. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E09

"The Rains of Castamere"

Game of Thrones 3x09-The Rains of Castamere

So…that happened.

This week, I'm not going to do as much recapping as I usually do, or spend a lot of time pretending that anyone is thinking about anything but the big surprises in the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I'm not sure this will even count as a "review," per se, but  I do have a few thoughts about "The Rains of Castamere." Let's just talk a bit, shall we? Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E08

"Second Sons"

"Then you'll be fucking your own bride with a wooden cock."

Though the episode is book-ended with short, unrelated scenes, the bulk of "Second Sons," is spent on just three storylines: the negotiations between Dany (Emilia Clarke) and the titular sellswords; the nefarious plans Melisandre (Carice van Houten) has for Gendry (Joe Dempsie); and the wedding of Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). This sort of focused attention span is rare for Game of Thrones—which more commonly spends each episode running back and forth between seven or eight plates, trying to keep them all spinning at once—and it was a nice change of pace to spend so much time luxuriating in just three places.

And frankly, the simplicity of this episode provides the opportunity for hapless reviewers like myself to have bit of a respite. As I'm trying to catch up with my posts before a holiday weekend, I'm going to take advantage of that opportunity and keep it short this week. There isn't a lot to unpack in this episode, but there are a few threads that connect these seemingly unrelated stories in interesting ways. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E14

"The Name of the Doctor"

DOCTOR WHO 7x14-The Name of the Doctor

Welcome back, Mr. Moffat. My, how I've missed you.

I've made no secret of the fact that I've been disappointed with Series 7 of Doctor Who. By my count, it's given us a couple of very good episodes ("The Snowmen" and "Hide"), far too many fairly terrible ones ("Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," "The Power of Three," "The Bells of Saint John," "Cold War," and "The Crimson Horror"), with the rest falling comfortably in the middle. Opinions vary, of course, but by my arbitrary reckoning this makes this arguably the weakest season since the show returned in 2005. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E07

"The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

GAME OF THRONES 3x07 - The Bear and the Maiden Fair

Clearly, the theme of this week's Game of Thrones, "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," is the Kierkegaardian paradox of faith: the notion that absolute belief in the divine requires an inexplicable renunciation of duty in the rational, objective, ethical sense—which is to say, a denial of Kant's categorical imperative—and an elevation of the individual above the realm of the universal. As we see in the confounding, divine purity of Hodor's infinite resignation to constant repetition of the single phrase Hodor, this teleological suspension cannot be mediated in ethical terms, but must be recognized—

Nah, I'm just yankin' your chain. Actually, this week's episode is all about fucking. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E06

"The Climb"

GAME OF THRONES 3x06 - The Climb

I began my first review of the season with the observation that—for all its kings and queens, princes and princesses, witches and warlocks, dragons and giants and magic—Game of Thrones is no fairy tale. I was mostly being a wise-ass, but I also intended it as a mild, spoiler-free warning to those of you who haven't read all of George R. R. Martin's novels: the further into we get into this epic tale, the more you'll figure out that your romantic, storybook notions will not serve you here. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E12

"The Crimson Horror"

DOCTOR WHO 7x12 - The Crimson Horror

Okay, let me say at the start: this isn't going to be pleasant for any of us. I really don't enjoy being this guy: just as there's nothing I love more than analyzing and raving about (at obscene length) an episode of Doctor Who that rises to the considerable heights of which this show is capable, there is nothing I hate more than trying to squeeze out even a few hundred words about the infrequent and unfortunate lows.  Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E05

"Kissed by Fire"

GAME OF THRONES 3x05, "Kissed by Fire"

The emotional highs and lows of this show are almost too much to take sometimes. Last week's episode left us cheering and pumping our fists in triumph, but this week's episode was more likely to have us weeping copiously in a black fog of sadness and despair.

Don't get me wrong, however: the emotional peaks and valleys are a large part of the appeal of Game of Thrones, and the highs would not seem so high, or the lows so low, if these stories and characters were not so well crafted. I said last week that the pursuit of power was a long game on this show, and it occurs to me now that that's true for the writers and actors as well: they've built these characters so carefully—patiently layering in the histories and personalities, successes and failures, conflicts and contradictions—that every emotional moment is all the more powerful now for being completely earned. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E11

"Journey to the Center of the TARDIS"

DOCTOR WHO 7x11 - Journey to the Center of the TARDIS

Somewhere within the wreckage of "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" there was a great episode of Doctor Who to be found, but writer Steve Thompson didn't quite find it. Like the Doctor (Matt Smith) himself, Thompson kept journeying further and further into the legendary, infinite recesses of the famous craft, searching for the salvage of a lifetime: there were many pleasures and wonders to be discovered along the way, but, ultimately, what they both found was just a big old mess in desperate need of a do-over.

Wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey: is it too late to go back to the beginning, and try this hour again?

Continue reading

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MAD MEN S06E03–4
"The Collaborators" & "To Have and to Hold"

MAD MEN 6x03 - "The Collaborators"

When I wrote up the two-part season premiere, I mentioned that it was going to be a problem for me to keep up with my Mad Men reviews this year, and that is turning out to be the case. (If I could learn to write short, pithy, off-the-cuff reviews, I might comfortably cover three shows a week, but short-and-pithy has never been my forte.) Now, two episodes behind—with a third barreling down on me this evening—I'm forced to consolidate a bit, or else admit that my Mad Men reviews just aren't going to happen this year.

But that's okay, because—as I discovered last season, when I often ended up doubling-up on episodes for the same reason—this show lends itself pretty well to a longer view and a slower pace. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E04

"And Now His Watch Is Ended"

GAME OF THRONES 3x04 -And Now His Watch is Ended

So, if I'm honest, all I really want to say about this episode is this:

H O L Y  F U C K I N G   S H I T  T H A T  W A S  T O T A L L Y  A W E S O M E.

However, I foolishly used up my "geek-out" card last week, and anyway I do have a few other things to say about the various themes running throughout "And Now His Watch Is Ended." Fortunately—though the entire episode was good—it's just those last ten minutes or so that put me into the incoherent ecstasy of a total fanboy. So let's leave that for last, and in the meantime I'll try to hold it together, maintain a little dignity, and strap on my critical hat so we can have a mature discussion about the rest of the episode. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E10

"Hide"

Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) in "Hide"

Well, that was more like it. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E03

"Walk of Punishment"

GAME OF THRONES 3x03-Walk of Punishment

I spend so much time discussing the themes of Game of Thrones—because the show does such a remarkable job of weaving the unwieldy pieces of George R. R. Martin's multi-narrative epic into a cohesive hour each week—that I sometimes forget to just discuss the quality of the show in general. I hope that my approaching the show's themes so seriously—even obsessively—is the sincerest form of flattery, but I've been meaning for a while to just take a step back and appreciate how well Game of Thrones is put together. This week, I'm going to take that opportunity.  Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E09

"Cold War"

DOCTOR WHO 7x09-Cold War

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I really do very little reviewing in my “TV reviews”—at least of the shows I cover regularly. I’m not interested in assigning grades, and I presume that if you’re reading these posts you’ve already seen the episode in question, so you don’t need me to recommend it. I wouldn’t watch these shows—let alone spend hours writing about them—if I didn’t assume a basic, baseline level of quality that can usually go unremarked. So, in general, I’m much more interested in discussing the episodes than reviewing them. If I find myself reviewing an episode, it usually means something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

So, with apologies to all concerned, welcome to my review of “Cold War.” Continue reading

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MAD MEN S06E01-2 (TV Review)
"The Doorway"

MAD MEN 6x01-2

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
from the straight road and woke to find myself
alone in a dark wood. How shall I say
what wood that was! I never saw so drear,
so rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear.

Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!

—from The Inferno, by Dante Alighieri  Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E02 (TV Review)
"Dark Wings, Dark Words"

GAME OF THRONES 3x02 - "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

In my reviews of Game of Thrones, one of my touchstone phrases—which I've used so often you're no doubt sick of it—is "cripples, bastards, and broken things." It was the title of Episode Four of the first season, in which Tyrion expresses his sympathy for the damaged and the outcast among his fellow men. The point I've made (again and again) is that the show's sympathy, too, lies with all the Misfit Toys of Westeros—but also how, in the end, nearly everyone can be seen to fall into one of these categories. It occurred to me this week, however, that there's a fourth category to add to the mix, which is the thin throughline around which "Dark Wings, Dark Words" is structured: orphans. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E08

"The Rings of Akhaten"

DOCTOR WHO 7x08 - The Rings of Akhaten

New and casual fans of Doctor Who may not know that the show was originally conceived largely as an educational program, one commissioned by BBC executives who had a fair amount of disdain for science fiction. An internal BBC memo from May 1963 contains a mandate that the show be "neither fantasy nor space travel nor science fiction:"

"The only unusual science fiction 'angle' is that four characters of today are projected into real environments based on the best factual information of situations in time, in space, and in any material state we can realise in practical terms…

"Using unusual exciting backgrounds, or ordinary backgrounds seen unusually, each story will have a strong informational core based in fact…" Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S03E01
"Valar Dohaeris"

GAME OF THRONES 3x01-Valar Dohaeris

From the very first moments, we can probably guess what kind of season it's going to be. The first shot of the episode is of a barren landscape with a winter storm rolling in: we hear a howling wind, and we see everything obliterated by white. Winter is no longer coming: winter is here. But before that—before the first shot, before the first words, and even before the opening credits—what we hear is the screaming. We hear screaming, and fighting, and dying, and the high-pitched shriek of something unnatural and unimaginable announcing itself from the darkness.

Welcome back to Game of Thrones, and brace yourself. Yes, the show features kings and queens, princes and princesses, witches and warlocks, dragons and giants and magic—but don't let any of that fool you. This is no fairy tale, and the odds of anyone living happily ever after are getting slimmer by the season. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E07

"The Bells of Saint John"

Doctor Who 7x07-The Bells of Saint John

Last year, Doctor Who executive producer Steven Moffat famously (and controversially) quit Twitter, amidst much speculation that he had tired of the steady stream of abuse from his alleged fans. This year, we get an episode dedicated to the proposition that the internet is going to suck up our souls, one in which the villains are ultimately brought down because they foolishly expose themselves on social media sites. I don't blame Moffat a bit for escaping the online pecking party, but I'm afraid his antipathy towards the internet feels like a fairly thin metaphor on which to hang a story. We get it: the internet is the enemy. What's next? Are animated GIFs really miniature time loops? Does a Pinterest page of an angel become an angel? Shall we brace for the Attack of the Cybermemes? Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E06

"The Snowmen"

DOCTOR WHO - The Snowmen
One must have a mind of winter…

Just today, it happened again: this time it was during a phone call with my mother. She mentioned that—thanks to my bad influence—my youngest niece is now an obsessive fan of Doctor Who. For Christmas, my brother's teen-age daughter had hung a string of TARDIS lights in her bedroom—the strand draped so that it cast a smile-shaped shadow like a crack on the wall—and last week she spent an entire afternoon making Weeping Angel cookies.

Needless to say, I couldn't be prouder. But my mother—her grandmother—doesn't get it: she's watched a couple of episodes, and doesn't see the appeal. "I get why she would like it," my mother said to me. "I just don't get why you do."

It was bafflement, not judgement, but the implication was clear: Doctor Who is not a show for grown-ups.
Continue reading

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AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM

S02E02—“Tricks and Treats”

Warning: Contains spoilers for this episode. And naked butts.

According to available sources, American Horror Story executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are both in their 40s. James Wong, who wrote "Tricks and Treats"—this second episode of American Horror Story: Asylum—is in his 50s. Jessica Lange and James Cromwell are both veteran actors, in their 60s and 70s, respectively, and—with the exception of some trick-or-treaters, and the little girl that Sister Jude once turned into a reluctant hood ornament—I have to assume the rest of the cast are all grown-ups as well.

So here's my question: why does nearly every episode of American Horror Story feel like it was made by a bunch of horny and hyperactive teen-age boys? Continue reading

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AMERICAN HORROR STORY: ASYLUM

S02E01—"Welcome to Briarcliff"Evan Peters in AMERICAN HORROR STORY ASYLUM

Warning: Contains spoilers

Oh, American Horror Story, I wish I knew how to quit you.  Continue reading

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666 PARK AVENUE (TV Review)

First Look/Last Look

In “First Look/Last Look,” I’m doing quick and dirty reviews of a few TV pilots. While I hope this experiment yields at least one show that I will want to add to my regular viewing—if not reviewing—schedule, I’m not holding my breath. Call me pessimistic, but, in most cases, I expect my first look to also be my last.

Spoiler Level: Low

Last season, I spent 12 glorious weeks reviewing American Horror Story, the messy, misogynistic, stunningly bugshit FX series about the most severely evil house in America, and the several dozen people (alive, dead, and dumb) who lived there. "Stupidly pretentious, embarrassingly unrestrained, and chaotically unfocused," I wrote, "this is a basic cable Hell for good actors who have made bad choices." Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E05

"The Angels Take Manhattan"

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Amelia Pond.

Continue reading

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ELEMENTARY (TV Review)

First Look/Last Look

In “First Look/Last Look,” I'm doing quick and dirty reviews of a few TV pilots. While I hope this experiment yields at least one show that I will want to add to my regular viewing—if not reviewing—schedule, I’m not holding my breath. Call me pessimistic, but, in most cases, I expect my first look to also be my last.

Spoiler Level: Safe

OK, I know my audience fairly well, so let's just get this out of the way: no, the new CBS series Elementary (Thursdays at 10/9c) is neither a direct rip-off of, nor anywhere near as good as, the BBC series Sherlock. It has been widely reported that CBS approached Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the creators of Sherlock, about doing an American adaptation; when they were turned down, the network just went off and created its own modern-day retelling of the Holmes story. Continue reading

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LAST RESORT (TV Review)

First Look/Last Look

This fall I am continuing my “First Look/Last Look” series, doing quick and dirty reviews of a few TV pilots. While I hope this experiment yields at least one show that I will want to add to my regular viewing—if not reviewing—schedule, I’m not holding my breath. Call me pessimistic, but, in most cases, I expect my first look to also be my last.

Spoiler Level: Low

I'll be disappointed if Last Resort, the new ABC drama premiering tonight at 8/7c, turns out to be the best pilot I watch this year, but I'll be surprised if it isn't in the top five. Ambitious, well-acted, genuinely thrilling, and boasting the kinds of production values rarely seen on TV, Last Resort is polished, powerful, and enjoyably preposterous. It's impossible to take it seriously, but it could be a lot of fun. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E04

"The Power of Three"

Due to some unavoidable travel this week, I'm running behind on my posts, and so I'm going to keep my review of "The Power of Three" short and sweet.

I didn't care for it. Continue reading

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REVOLUTION (TV Review)

First Look/Last Look

In “First Look/Last Look,” I will once again be doing very quick reviews of a few new fall shows, panning for gold in the fetid riverbed of the 2012-2013 network television season. While I hope this experiment yields at least one show that I will want to add to my regular viewing—if not reviewing—schedule, I’m not holding my breath. Call me pessimistic, but, in most cases, I expect my first look to also be my last.

Revolution, the new NBC series from creator Eric Kripke (Supernatural) and executive producer J.J. Abrams (Lost), is absolutely fascinating…

…for about 70 seconds. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E03

"A Town Called Mercy"

"It would be so much simpler if I was just one thing, wouldn't it?"

That question—asked towards the end of "A Town Called Mercy"—underlines writer Toby Whithouse's deliberate subversion of the Western genre. Westerns—and particularly the straight-up, old-fashioned Hollywood Westerns that this episode intentionally evokes—are all about good guys and the bad guys, heroes and villains, White Hats and Black Hats. What Whithouse presents here is a situation that appears to be that simple—the kindly town doctor menaced by a monstrous, black-hatted gunslinger—but then the situation and the characters all grow increasingly more complicated as the story unfolds. No one is "just one thing"—least of all our hero—and nothing is simple. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E02

"Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"

Well that was a bit of a mess, wasn't it?

On paper, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" should have been the perfect lure to attract new young viewers to Doctor Who. Kids like dinosaurs (to an almost fetishistic degree), and kids also like spaceships, so: Look, kids! Doctor Who is the show that can deliver both, simultaneously! Throw in some historical figures (for educational value), a couple of quirky homicidal robots (for comic relief), a sub-plot about parental approval (for emotional resonance), and a truly dark villain who meets a truly dark end (for seasoning), and you should have the quintessential episode of Who. Continue reading

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DOCTOR WHO S07E01

"Asylum of the Daleks"

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Oswin (Jenna Louise-Coleman)

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of Doctor Who. I'll be reviewing every episode of Series 7, the first five of which will air Saturday evenings at 9/8c throughout September on BBC America. (My goal is to post each review within 24 hours of airing.) As with all my TV reviews, I assume you've already watched this episode and the ones before it, so spoilerphobes beware: discussion of anything that has aired to date is fair game.

In the words of Amy Pond, "Is is bad that I've really missed this?"
Continue reading

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MAD MEN S05E11–12 (TV Review)

"The Other Woman" & "Commissions and Fees" Lane Pryce (Jaren Harris)

Our latest two episodes of Mad Men each feature a major character leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. One leaves in a considerably more permanent fashion than the other, but I'd still be hard pressed to say which departure is sadder. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E10
"Valar Morghulis"

The key image in "Valar Morghulis," the second season finale of Game of Thrones, comes early. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) is sitting majestically atop his steed, preparing to enter the throne room of King's Landing to be honored as Savior of the City by his grandson King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Just before this auspicious event, however, puncturing the austerity and pomp of the occasion, Lord Tywin's horse takes a big steaming dump on the floor.

Yes, after an incredible season in which episodes have focused on concepts like masculinity, femininity, honor, loyalty, and love, we have one more theme to explore: horseshit. And, make no mistake, horseshit is a worthy subject, since it's the foundation and glue and currency of this entire society. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E09
"Blackwater"

It doesn't get much better than that.

There was little doubt that "Blackwater," the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones' sophomore season, would be an exciting hour of television: in fact, expectations were probably too high. Those of us who had read A Clash of Kings knew that this entire season was building up to the Battle of Blackwater, of course, but even viewers who were experiencing this story for the first time must have suspected that Stannis Baratheon's attack on King's Landing would be the thrilling climax of the season. Add to that the presence of a proven film director (Neil Marshall, The Descent), the anticipation of a teleplay by George R. R. Martin himself, and the promise of seeing where HBO had spent the majority of this season's battle-budget, and the hype around "Blackwater" practically guaranteed it would disappoint in one way or another. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E08
"The Prince of Winterfell"

One of the main themes of Game of Thrones, as we've discussed many times, is that all politics are personal; last week we looked at the personal motivations that complicate questions of honor, and this week expands on that idea by showing us some reckless choices made not by the head but by the heart. Continue reading

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MAD MEN S05E09-10 (TV Review)

"Dark Shadows" & "Christmas Waltz"

I had, this week, a moment of clarity about Mad Men: it was the realization that none of these people—not a single goddamned one of them—will ever, ever be happy. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E07
"A Man Without Honor"

If you’re anything like me, at this point in this season of Game of Thrones you are counting the remaining episodes and begrudging every moment that doesn’t feel absolutely necessary. For the love of god(s), we scream at the screen, Stannis is sailing up the river to King’s Landing! Arya still has one murder owed to her! Jon and Robb need to get laid! Theon and Joffrey need to get killed in nasty, unbearably painful ways! There are only three episodes left: stop blathering on about ancient history and meaningless tournaments and bloody well GET ON WITH IT. 

But that’s just the Impatient Plot Junkie talking. The IPJ may resent an episode that consists of almost nothing but conversations—most of which do not seem to immediately advance the story—but Messrs. Benioff and Weiss (who wrote this episode) know exactly what they’re doing. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E06
"The Old Gods and the New"

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie)

One of the essential motifs of Game of Thrones is the equation of people with animals: we have stags and wolves, lions and dragons, krakens and crows and horse lords (oh my). It's been clear from the beginning that the sigils are more than symbols: they are an expression of animal nature, a reminder of the primal forces that live within us all—the instincts, the passions, the inner call of the wild.

The conflict between the impulses of nature and the constraints of civilization are as old as literature itself, of course, and it's not a surprise to see that theme becoming more important in Game of Thrones. There's a reason Westeros maintains a great big wall between itself and the untamed world beyond: those animal natures are often at odds with the responsibilities and requirements of this society. Continue reading

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MAD MEN S05E07-08 (TV Review)

“At the Codfish Ball”/“Lady Lazarus”Megan (Jessica Pare)

It's only because I've fallen so sorely behind on my reviews lately that I'm doubling up on my Mad Men posts this week, but these turn out to be good episodes on which to do so. The main plotline running through "At the Codfish Ball" and "Lady Lazarus" is the meteoric rise, and voluntary fall, of Megan Calvet Draper (Jessica Pare) at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. As many characters have remarked this season, time feels like it is speeding up, and here Megan travels, over a period of a few weeks, a condensed story arc that other characters would take years to complete.

But that's the way things are going to be from now on in America: roles are becoming less narrowly defined, identities more fluid, and self-fulfillment is becoming more important than stability and the traditional markers of success.  Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E05
"The Ghost of Harrenhal"

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage)

Though far from a weak episode, the midway point of this season of Game of Thrones is rather short on incidence, and doesn't have as strong a thematic structure as most episodes of the series.  "The Ghost of Harrenhal" is predominantly occupied with a bit of mid-season shuffling, as the show moves all the players to their necessary places on the board.
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MAD MEN S05E06 (TV Review)

"Far Away Places"

This season of Mad Men is turning out to be interesting. If I look at the individual components, I can't really name any single episode so far that stands out as great; "Far Away Places" probably comes closest, just for its structural complexity, but it doesn't have the emotional high notes—or the accompanying performances—that would make it, for me, one of the show's finest. (For my money, last season's "The Suitcase" is probably the high-water mark.)

However, it would not surprise me if this season, as a whole, turns out to be Matthew Weiner's masterpiece. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES S02E04
"Garden of Bones"


Note: This post contains spoilers for this and previous episodes of Game of Thrones, but does not discuss any spoilers from the books.

I don't think it has escaped anyone's notice that this season of Game of Thrones has been, on the whole, a good deal darker than last season—and considering that last season was not exactly King Friday's Neighborhood of Make-Believe, that's saying a lot. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were always troubled, but Good King Robert's reign was, comparatively, an era of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. (Okay, it was also an era of twincest, poisonings, and moon doors, but you take my meaning.) It was—as everyone kept saying all last season—a time of summer, and now winter has come. Continue reading

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MAD MEN S05E05 (TV Review)

"Signal 30"

I'm running seriously behind schedule this week—sometimes the day job interferes with my more important pursuits—and now there's another episode of Mad Men barreling down on me in less than 24 hours. So, as much as I'd like to provide a detailed blow-by-blow of "Signal 30"—up to and including the soul-stirring sight of Lane Pryce delivering a long-overdue beatdown—I'm mostly going to share a few disorganized thoughts about The Short and Happy Life of Peter Campbell.
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