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Archive for the ‘End of the Road’ Category

End of the Road: Comedy Night Done Right

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 30, 2008

Will TV ever TRULY be must-see again?

I had about a half-hour to kill late this afternoon, so I decided to pull out a new-ish episode of The Office I had downloaded recently. It had been a few months since I’d seen the show, and I was curious to see what the gang was up to since I had last checked in. The episode was last week’s I think, in which the Dunder-Mifflin employees are distressed about being forced to park in a far-away lot, and in which Michael tries to move on from Jan by becoming infatuated with a girl in a chair catalogue. It’s entirely possible that neither of these were the episode’s central plot point, but I wouldn’t know, because I turned it off about five minutes in–it was all I could take, pretty much.

What happened? Not only did this used to be one of my favorite shows on TV, but thinking on it a minute, I realized that The Office wasn’t the only show I’d soured on recently–all four of NBC’s Comedy Night Done Right regulars (Office, 30 Rock, Scrubs, My Name is Earl) had fallen out of my regular-watching favor. There was a time not that long ago–last year, in fact–that I barely ever missed a single episode of these shows, and when I did, I always caught up with Torrents by the end of the week. Now I don’t even know when these shows are airing new episodes or not. Part of it is due to the disruption Writers’ Strike, part of it is due to the fact that I work Thursdays now, but there has to be something more. Let’s break it down by show:

  • My Name is Earl: Of all the shows that have fallen in standing with me, this is the one that I find the least disappointing. I don’t really like Earl any less than I ever did, I just realized that it’s more of a show meant for re-runs. I’ve come to realize that this is an important distinction for shows, and not necessarily an insult–shows that arc less, have very self-contained per-episode plots, and are consistently enjoyable without approaching obligatory viewing just happen to lend themselves more to re-runs. The golden standard for this, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is King of the Hill–a show that’s on TV constantly, has enough episodes that you’ve got a farly good percentage of seeing an ep for the first time whenever you watch, and is almost always enjoyable enough to be worth watching. My Name Is Earl, already a breath of fresh air in TBS re-runs, is probably only a few seasons away from reaching similar status.
  • Scrubs: This one was the longest time coming for me. Of course it wasn’t just the new episodes that I stopped digging–it was the show in general, which after a period of about six months in which I watched the show maybe ten times a week (which, believe me, is only a fraction of the # of times I could’ve watched it if I’d really set my mind to it), went from charming to grating in all areas in about a heartbeat. It’s funny to watch nearly everyone I know who fell in love with the show around the same time I did go through the stages–the initial crush, the ballooning to near-obsession, and then the sudden, inexplicable cold shoulder. That’s not to let the new episodes entirely off the hook, though–one can only watch these people go through the same relationship motions so many times before it starts to feel like Grey’s Anatomy, and plot devices like the Musical episode and having Laverne die just weren’t doing it for me. The good news for me is that recently I became able to at least watch the old episodes again, though I’m trying to keep it in moderation this time, and maybe one day I’ll even catch up on how the series eventually ends.
  • The Office :What it is here is that the plot stopped being important altogether. I didn’t even really realize it until it wasn’t there anymore, but a big reason as to why I watched the show is because I legitimately wanted to see what happened with Jim and Pam–it wasn’t just a background plot to anchor the series a little bit, it was the big emotional pull for the show, climaxing in what I still believe to be maybe one of the greatest and most jaw-dropping scenes in TV history in “casino Night,” the S2 finale. But now that they’re together and happy…what is there left to watch for? Jan and Michael? Andy and Angela? Creed and his mung beans? It’s the eternal televisual connundrum–the consummation of the sexual tension between the male and female romantic leads, which you wait the entire series for, but once it actually happens, the show’s never quite the same again. The best the show can hope for now is to follow Earl‘s lead into King of the Hill re-run gold territory–or maybe more like late night replays of Cheers.
  • 30 Rock: This one I feel the least comfortable denouncing, because, to be fair, it’s still been a while since I’ve watched it last. The relationship between Jack and C.C. (Edie Falco) wasn’t really holding my interest, Liz’s plots were feeling a little redundant, and reliable supporters like Jack and Frank hadn’t really hit any home runs recently. But I don’t know if I can say for sure that the show’s had an across-the-board drop in quality, and a particularly inspired mini-arc, a quality guest spot or a good new running gag might be able to right this show in the space of an episode or two.

And of course, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of this is due to the fact that not only have the shows changed since last year, but so have I, at least in my TV habits. Partly due to a highly subpar new TV season, the ends of the short seasons to Friday Night Lights and The Wire, and the fact that I’m spending such a large percent of my TV watching on the NBA playoffs these days, there’s really very little on right now that I’m making a point to awatch–the unexpectedly compelling fourth season of LOST is all I have right now as a priority, augmented by occasional viewings of new episodes of How I Met Your Mother (also getting a little repetitive, but still fairly watchable, even if the whole Britney thing didn’t turn out too remarkably).

I’m actually fairly curious what readers out there have to say about this. Am I not giving these shows a fair shake? Have any of them picked it up recently? If not, what else new are you watching on TV? There’s gotta be something out there, right?

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Posted in End of the Road | 11 Comments »

End of the Road: Smokin’ Aces

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 18, 2008

“What do you see right now? You see exactly, and only what I choose to show you. That is illusion Ivy, that is the lie that I tell your eyes, makin’ the magic happen, in the moment, in that split second… but seeing behind this motherfucker and knowing… that it’s all bullshit.”

In the beginning, there was Tarantino. There was Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, two movies which redefined the gangster pic as being fun, largely light-hearted affairs, with criminals far more sympathetic than any of the (limited) law enforcement and an ear for crackling, instantly quotabel dialogue. These movies begat Get Shorty and 2 Days in the Valley, which in turn were taken across the pond to Snatch and Sexy Beast, and exported back to its country of origin for, uh, Gigli and Lucky Number Slevin. Surely, ten years later, and with increasingly diminshed returns, I figured the sub-genre had hit its lowest plateau.

Then I caught Smokin’ Aces on cable, and I realized how far it still had to fall. To call it the worst action movie ever made, or at least of the last decade, would not be too great of an overstatement. And that’s not because it’s the least enjoyable, or the least well made, or because watching it even made me the most angry. But the way I’ve always defined quality in film is by weighing the goals a movie sets out for itself vs. how well that movie achieves those goals. And by those criteria, no movie is a bigger failure than Smokin’ Aces.

Full disclousre: I love race movies. And by race movies I don’t mean Crash or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner–I mean movies where a whole cast of characters are racing towards one common goal, usually where only one (or one pair) can actually succeed. You get to meet a whole bunch of characters (even better if they’re played by famous people, even better if they’re playing against type) and get to watch them essentially playing in a single-elimination death tournament, like a March Madness of action-comedy. The entire movie, you have to constantly be readjusting your hopes and expectations, rooting for whoever’s left and hoping that one dude/chick/dude-chick-pair isn’t the one to come out on top.

And because of that, I figured Smokin’ Aces would be the aboslute pinnacle in cable film entertainment. And I’m not even saying I won’t watch it on TV again, but dear lord has no movie wasted the kind of potential that this has. Let’s look at that cast: Andy Garcia. Ben Affleck. Ryan Reynolds. Peter Berg. Alex Rocco. Jeremy Piven. Ray Liotta. The guy who plays Richie Aprile in The Sopranos. And, oh yeah, Common and Alicia Keys, in their high-profile film debuts. You’ve got all these people, some solo, some duos, some in groups, plus about a dozen other less well-known contenders, fighting to get to a mob kingpin played by Jeremy Piven, a guy who could make Merchant-Ivory flicks watchable at 3:00 on a Saturday night. How could they possibly go wrong?

Indeed, how is the question. Bad screenplay? Incompetent director? Who knows–but not only did the movie go wrong, nothing went right. The characters given the most development are the ones that get killed in the first 45 minutes. Nifty soul and garage rock cuts percolate throughout the movie, but bear nothing on the scene in question and are often heavily incongruous with the rest of the movie. Countless villains show up that have absolutely no consequence on the plot at large, presumably to give the movie flair but actually just making things confusing. The only person you care less about than Israel’s would-be assassins is Israel himself. The action, little that there actually is, is shot with that frenetic post-Saw methed-out look, and most of the action that is present seems about as pointless as anything else in the movie.

Usually, the key to movies like this (even when the action is far from on point) is in the comedy, but as with Lucky Number Slevin, the movie isn’t funny enough to beign with, and then takes a weird turn for the dramatic part way through. Reynolds’ fury over the killing of his partner Liotta (the relationship of which was maybe given one scene’s development beforehand) and over the movie’s shocking twist ending (they actually want Israel for a heart transplant to save the mobster he’s supposed to be ratting out, because the mobster is actually the agent who was supposed to be infiltrating the mob 60 years ago with some plastic surgery…trust me, it doesn’t make much more sense if you’ve seen the movie itself) leads to an extremely heavy finale.that makes it seem like Joe Carnahan thinks he’s making Collateral.

This is the end, my friends. This is the end of the hip action comedy with the swift editing and the nifty soundtrack. This is the bottom. And if Action filmmakers across America don’t start picking it up a little bit, I might give up on Starz and HBO to get me through my days off altogether.

Posted in End of the Road | 4 Comments »