Sunday, November 29, 2009

FlashForward - an exercise in tedium

Bryce, back from Japan

This fall I was looking forward to three heavily hyped dramas - ABC's "V" and "FlashForward" and AMC's miniseries "The Prisoner."
All have been huge disappointments, but "FlashForward" has been the most frustrating, because at least "V" and "The Prisoner" had the decency to end - "V" until March, anyway.
If you have not seen "FlashForward" - first, good decision. It is about the consequences of a worldwide event in which virtually everyone blacks out for two and a half minutes and flashes forward to April 29. You would think a phenomena like this would be enough for plenty of drama - how did it happen? What are the ramifications of such an event? - but sadly, too often this show focuses on mundane daily events in the characters' lives in a maddening way, or takes stupifying leaps of logic.
"The Prisoner" and "V" suffered the same fate - one of having a wonderful premise (in the case of "The Prisoner" an excellent show had already been made) and botching it in mind-blowing ways. This column will focus on "FlashForward."
This plotline, from the Nov. 19 episode, is typical of this show's complete lack of continuity. A minor character from the show, Bryce (Zachary Knighton), was revealed to have cancer for the first time.
Never mind that the show has been airing for around two months now, and all everyone does is talk about what happened to them before and after their flashforwards, when they aren't whining about their relationships. The fact that millions died on that day and no one spends a second mourning any of them is only one of the many annoying things about this program that I now suspect is written by teenagers undergoing ADD treatment.
Anyway, back to Bryce. Though Bryce discussed his suicide attempt, which occurred during the blackout, extensively with his friend Olivia (Sofia Walger), he has never mentioned the cancer. Why? Who knows? Anyway, now it's all he talks about, so he suddenly becomes obsessed with finding this Japanese woman. We also see Japanese woman's story.
The Japanese woman's deal is basically this - she starts out as this brilliant engineer and her flashforward shows her with Bryce. He is obsessed with finding her because she is happy and pretty and it proves he is still alive on April 29 (the date of everyone's flashforwards). She doesn't care about finding him, only about getting away from her job, which turns out to be boring.
In one insufferable scene, he goes to Japan to find her because he finds out that her T-shirt reveals where she likes to eat, and it's a small restaurant, and meanwhile she decides to shake the dust off this Japanese life and flees to - wait for it - America.
Do these two idiots really deserve to find each other? This kind of stuff happens all the time on this show, where people seem to have lost all their sense during their blackouts.
By the end of the show we still haven't seen how they hook up in the flashforward. They haven't met. It would be typical of the show to just drop their storyline all together.
Another problem is the show has a wonderful cast - Joseph Fiennes, John Cho, Sofia Walger and Dominic Monaghan from "Lost" - all charasmatic actors who are awful here. It's not their fault. They have nothing to work with almost all the time.
I bet you have figured out the most irritating thing of all. I am still watching.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I (heart) this boy

Joseph Gordon-Levitt...

... Makin' 'em laugh.

On a weekend that saw the world going cookoo for Cocoa Puffs for a bunch of pretty boys in "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," another boy captured my heart on "Saturday Night Live" by quite literally falling on his face.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, most recently of "(500) Days of Summer," went on "Saturday Night Live" and did a few things that you just cannot do if you want to escape my ardor.
First of all, he bounded out on that stage with so much enthusiasm, you might have just thought he was TRULY thrilled to be there. After the debacle that was the January Jones episode, just a week prior, it was like watching a different show. After saying the customary "I'm happy to be here" he proved it by admitting he's been contemplating a monologue since he found out he would be on the show two months ago.
What he decided on was a tribute to Donald O'Connor's number "Make 'em Laugh" from the classic 1952 musical "Singin' in the Rain." He nailed the number, and it was unlike anything I've seen on "SNL" in some time. If you hit the link above, you can watch it, too, and I recommend you do.
After that, the episode became more like a normal episode, with good and bad points. The "Palin 2012" was an unfunny attempt to do a Palin book joke. Surely there was something better. Kenan Thompson's "What's Up With That" is quickly becoming a hilarious new segment. The digital short featured Kenan Thompson, who had convinced Andy Samberg he was Reba McEntire by putting on a red wig and doing nothing else, was pretty good. There was more singing than usual overall, which I like.
There are always going to be people who say "SNL" is done, and I'm sure opening with a number from a 60-year-old musical will do little to change that opinion. But I thought it was pretty gutsy.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's like 'Mad Men,' with consequences

Where would Don Draper be without his drink and his smoke?

Last night I watched a movie which really got me thinking - "The Days of Wine and Roses." It was released in 1962, and stars Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as a devoted married couple who also happen to be a devoted pair of alcoholics.
Watching it, I was struck again and again by how our culture downplays alcohol use and alcoholism.
Very few films deal so honestly with the horrors of alcoholism as this one. In one scene, Lemmon's Joe returns, drunk, from a party and shames Remick's Kirsten for no longer drinking with him. Kirsten, who is nursing their baby at the time, pleads that the doctor says it will get in her breast milk and Joe spits at her "you're going to lose your shape" and other cruel comments until she reluctantly drinks.
In another Joe is so desperate for a drink that he tears apart his father in law's greenhouse looking for a bottle he stashed there. As he whines, "he stole it, he stole it," it's hard to look at him, he is so pathetic.
I couldn't help but think of Betty Draper from "Mad Men," sitting there glamorously with her cigarette and glass of wine, pregnant and then with baby Gene, or Don, coolly sipping his scotch, never seeming to get very drunk. Sure, their characters are not supposed to be a full blown alcoholics, but the relationship with alcohol for the characters on "Mad Men" is almost played for laughs on the show, and this movie takes place at the exact same era. It's almost as if 40 years of culture enlightenment have left us more in the dark as to how to deal with alcoholism.
Freddy Rumsen, the one character on "Mad Men" who was singled out as having an alcohol problem, was played off as a joke. Meanwhile, the other characters clearly use alcohol to hide from their problems, especially Betty, who drank to excess constantly while pregnant this season, and it is not addressed at all. Was it really that normal? In the film, Joe was fired from his job, and he and Kirsten lost everything because of their alcoholism.
I love "Mad Men," but it's clearly supposed to be a cool show. And whether we like to admit it or not, we certainly live in a culture that treats adults who don't drink as weirdos. I'm just raising a question.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My name is Wendy and I like "Modern Family"

A TV family that doesn't make you wince, ABC's "Modern Family."

It's about time I came out and admitted something that I have been keeping from even my best friends - I LOVE the new ABC comedy "Modern Family."
It doesn't look like my kind of show. It's traditional family sitcom, although blessedly laugh-track free. And even when I saw the promotional pictures in Entertainment Weekly, I made a face. It looked like the typical family sitcom stacked with smart-ass kids, cynical parents who hated each other. Plus it stars Ed O'Neill. You know. "Married with Children"? Ugh.
"Modern Family" is not that. It started showing up on all the TV critics lists as one of the top shows of the year, so I thought I'd check it out, and it turns out, it's my favorite new show of the year.
And best of all, it's popular! I can't tell you how many times I love a new show, and it's the first one to get canceled. It took years before anyone else I knew was watching "Mad Men" except my husband, so I am used to being alone on these things. But this show is being written and talked about all the time. And it's damn funny. My whole family watches and enjoys this show. And here's why:
1) It's not just funny, it's sweet. But it's really funny. Although we have a debate about clueless dad Phil (played by Ty Burrell) nearly every week, he is the best character on the show. His idea of keeping up with the times is understanding that LOL means laugh out loud, and then adds WTF means "why the face."
2) It's loaded with TV veterans who have deserved a better show. Julie Bowen (most recently of "Lost" in a small part as Jack's wife), Jesse Tyler Ferguson of CBS' "The Class," Sofia Vergara of ABC's "The Knights of Prosperity," as well as Burrell of FOX's "Back to You", and it could even be argued O'Neill, who recently told EW this was the first show he was in where when people said "I love your show" he was actually proud instead of wanting to reply "really? Why?"
3) It's one of the rare shows that I like that doesn't require a lot of thought or attention, but it's still worth watching, and I even look forward to it. Like "The New Adventures of Old Christine," "The Simpsons," "The Office," "How I Met Your Mother" and "30 Rock," it's one of a number of half-hour comedies that I tune into weekly and truly enjoy. Take that, those who insist the sitcom is dead. And unlike "FlashForward" and "V," two of the most overhyped shows of the year, this show is delivering, every time. I'd love it if you checked it out - because I said so.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

'A Christmas Carol' wants you to know it's time to start buying stuff

Jim Carrey looks mad!

I went to see "A Christmas Carol" in 3D today and I am shocked to report it is not the worst movie ever. My son does mini-reviews for the local paper so I went in with him, my other son and their friend, who all were excited, with as much enthusiasm as I usually approach root canals and mammograms.
This movie had a lot going against it. First, is it based on a beloved tale which has already had several - not one but SEVERAL - distinctive definitive movie versions made of it already. It also features director Robert Zemeckis' latest attempt to force that creepy "realistic" animation on everyone, which manages to make people look like dead-eyed robots.
Why anyone has embraced these films is beyond me, but his previous movies featuring this technique, "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf," did well enough I guess. "Polar" was a big hit anyway. When "Beowulf" did not connect, I guess they decided, stick with Christmas. People like Christmas.
The movie is too dull for too long, but it takes a sudden and bizarre turn while Scrooge is talking to the Ghost of Christmas Present. It starts to get kind of weird, and this is where it becomes an interesting adaptation. Even the grotesqueness of the animation is useful here, as things we have seen and read again and again, like the servants picking over Scrooge's clothes, take on a new life.
Sadly, it doesn't last long, and then it's back to boredom. The Cratchits in particular suffer from from the terrible animation, which takes all the heart out of the exchanges between the parents (some of the best dialogue in the story).
It's sad when the very best thing about the moviegoing experience is the trailer to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," which will also be in 3D. Now, THAT made me gasp.