Category Archives: TV Reviews

TV Review – Russian Doll (2019)

Everlasting snark…day after day after day.

BQB here with a review of the Netflix series Russian Doll. (SPOILERS ABOUND)

I have to say it, 3.5 readers.  When I was a kid, there were a ton of TV shows and movies were single adults partied hard and lived fabulous, interesting, adventurous lives well into their forties.

Lies.  All lies, I say!  This lifestyle may work for a handful of ultra rich, ridiculously good looking people but for the rest of us normals, your best bet is to find someone you can stand being in the same room with before you hit 30, maybe 35 at the latest.

At first, from the opening scenes I thought this show was celebrating that lifestyle but in reality, it is far from it.  I’m not saying that 30 plus single people should be dumped on, I’m just saying there’s a certain point in time when you’re just too long in the tooth for the jet set crowd.

Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia has just turned 36 and her BFF, Maxine (Greta Lee) has thrown her a much undesired birthday party.  Now over 35, Nadia must come to terms with a fact that she has long been avoiding – she isn’t going to live forever.  She must find her happiness and yet, how does a misanthropic cynic who, with a dry wit and dark sense of humor, manages to openly mock everything and anything in life with great gusto find some sort of meaningful purpose in life?

Long story short,  Nadia dies.  Again and again and again.  Sometimes in scary ways.  Sometimes in hilarious ways.  To put a chill in your shorts, many of the deaths (falling down a flight of stairs, accidental electrocution, gas leak) are all things that could easily happen to any of us at any time if we aren’t careful.  When you think about it, it’s amazing that we all don’t croak again and again, what with our bodies being so fragile and all.

My early assessment was wrong.  This isn’t a show that glorifies the post 35 single life.  It doesn’t dump on it either.  Equal time is given to the fact that people who act like posers and social climbers after 35 are lame, but also, to the fact that not everyone finds love easily and sometimes love and/or happiness doesn’t come easily for everyone and that doesn’t make those people bad either.

This is Natasha Lyonne’s magnum opus, her Mona Lisa and her piece de resistance all wrapped up into one.  From the time she hit it big as Jessica, one of the funnier yet more street smart teens in 1999’s American Pie, audiences have gotten the sense that Natasha excels at playing jaded ball breakers whose fast talking, cynical facades mask deeper pain that few could handle, yet manage to joke about…all with a dose of Jewish guilt mixed in.

In recent years, her character on Orange is the New Black has cemented her status as this archetype and in Russian Doll, I get the impression, at least IMO, that Natasha is trying to say, “This is me.  This is who I am.  I’m troubled.  I carry around a lot of pain but I deal with it by tossing out a snappy one-liner that will kick you in the nuts.  You’ll get mad for a second until you realize that my assessment of you is correct and then you’ll laugh as you nurse your nuts back to health.  Oddly, you’ll find me so charming that you’ll come back for more, which is confusing, because I’m as cuddly as feral cat yet strangely, someone you can lean on, like a loyal puppy.  Although, I will bark at you.”

Was she trying to say all that?  I don’t know.  That’s what I got out of it anyway.

The repeated loop genre seems like it has been done to death, with Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day being, to the best of my knowledge, the first to tackle the idea of someone who has to repeat a day over and over.  Other films and shows have put their own spin on it.  Hell, this week, “Happy Death Day” releases the second in a series of films about a girl who gets murdered again and again only to wake up and get murdered again.

Creative?  Sure.  Overdone? Yes.

So why should you watch this addition to an overdone premise?  Well, it’s different.  Easy to say but it really is.

First, much of the series is devoted to the what of it all.  I.E. most of these films focus on something the looped character must do to make the loop stop.  This series spends a lot of time trying to figure out the why of it all…or better yet, the how of it all.  How the heck is this happening?  Nadia plays junior detective, investigating a number of theories – for example, maybe it’s spiritual energy in Maxine’s apartment caused by it being located on a former Yeshiva school, drawing her back to the same place at the same time after each untimely demise.  Hallucinations brought upon by a ketamine laced joint are another possibility.

Other theories are researched and personally, I’m torn as to whether or not the ending gives justice to the how of it.  I can see an argument for and against vis a vis whether it explained the how, but at any rate, the show does eventually make a shift from the how to the what, as in, what does Nadia need to do to make all this craziness stop?

The show is also different in that Nadia has a partner in crime.  While Nadia keeps returning to her birthday party, Alan (Charlie Barnett) gets it much worse.  He must continually return to the most unwanted of situations, reliving a scene where his girlfriend reveals that she has been cheating on him.

Eventually, Nadia and Alan meet and they must solve this mystery together.  Nadia might be cynical but at least she has somewhat of a can-do spirit.  Alan is deeply morose, ready to curl up in a corner and cry over the slightest of obstacles.  One’s a fighter and the other’s a sad sack.  Somehow they balance each other out and whether or not they resolve this never ending loop is a question I’ll let you answer when you watch it.

Stop by sometime and discuss the ending with me.  Those who haven’t watched it yet, just avoid that discussion until you do.  I think it is a great ending, not what I expected and it is rather complicated.  The show trusts you to use your brain to figure it out and doesn’t spoon feed it to you, that’s for sure.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Not sure I see it lasting more than one season.  It’s binge-worthy but I think to do a second season would be to spoil it.  Sometimes all a show needs to say can be summed up in one outing and this show is that.  Kudos to Lyonne for baring her soul for us Looky Lou’s to pick over and analyze, and for Netflix for letting her do it.  This isn’t the traditional kind of show that network TV would go for, and probably wouldn’t exist at any time other than this streaming golden age.  Also, to producer Amy Poehler.  She doesn’t star in this but by backing it, she steps out of her usual comfort zone of upbeat, silly comedy and into the world of dry, dark comedy.  Just don’t get sucked in too far, Amy.  The world still needs plenty of kindhearted Leslie Knopes, just as it needs Nadias to dump on them.

 

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TV Review – Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

This is the best show that you probably never saw.

Dead revival powers + lighthearted mysteries + awkward (and dangerous) romance = Pushing Daisies.

BQB here with yet another TV review.

It often astounds me what the network suits decide should be cancelled and what should stay on.  It was truly a “grave” (ha, puns!) injustice that this show didn’t get more seasons.

How to explain it?

As a child, Ned learns he has a mysterious, supernatural power – he can bring the dead back to life with his touch.

Of course, nothing is that simple and there are some catches:

  • If he brings a dead someone or some thing back to life, a live someone or some thing in the surrounding area will die to balance things out.
  • If he touches the revived dead again, he/she/it will die again, this time permanently, and the touch will not work on that subject again.

As an adult, Ned (Lee Pace) has opened up his own pie show, “The Pie Hole” but it is failing financially.

So, he teams up with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride).  Ned touches murdered people, he and Emerson ask them how they died and (hopefully if they know, who killed them).  They only have sixty seconds to make their inquiries and then Ned must touch the person before someone else in the area dies in the revived dead person’s place.

Emerson then passes it all off as though he solved the crime through his masterful detective skills and splits any ensuing reward money with Ned.

The situation becomes complicated when his childhood friend Charlotte aka “Chuck” (Anna Friel) returns to her hometown, but not as Ned would have hoped.

Chuck has been murdered, but when her body is shipped home for burial, Ned brings her back to life.

Chuck is grateful and joins in Ned and Emerson’s crime solving routine.  Alas, Ned and Chuck must figure out a way to keep their romance alive despite Ned not being able to touch Chuck ever again because if he does…she’ll die.

Without giving too much away, it involves a lot of plastic wrap.

I’m not sure where you’ll be able to watch it, 3.5 readers. At the time of this writing, I wasn’t able to find it on Netflix.  I’m sure it must be around somewhere and I suppose if you have the dough and love the show enough you could buy it but if you know where it can be streamed let my 3.5 readers and I know.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Weeds (2005-2012)

“Little houses, little houses, and they’re all made of ticky tacky…”

What the hell is ticky tacky?

Oh well.  Hot mom + marijuana = Showtime’s Weeds.

BQB here with another TV review.

This is another show I never watched when it was on for the first few years, then I got into it once streaming media came around in a big way.

Uber MILF Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise-Parker) has her life turned upside when her husband dies from a heart attack unexpectedly at age forty.

She’s been a suburban housewife forever, but with two kids to raise and bills to pay, she turns to a life of crime i.e. marijuana dealing.  Her product comes to be known as “MILF weed” due to her Milfyness as well as a chance encounter with Snoop Dogg (playing himself)

The first few seasons are the best of the series.  Here, the story isn’t so much about the marijuana as it is about hum drum suburban life, how Nancy is able to make tons of money selling to her neighbors who, on the surface, are stuck up yuppies but given the chance to spark a doob and party, they do – often in funny, sometimes in tragic ways.

Kevin Nealon as family friend Doug Wilson helps Nancy in her illegal endeavors.  His role in this show as a degenerate scumbag is his best work since SNL.

Meanwhile, Nancy ruins her chances at being nominated mother of the year by bringing her young sons into the business. (Hunter Parrish as Silas and Alexander Gould aka the voice of Nemo in 2003’s Finding Nemo as Shane.)

What really makes the show early on is the love/hate relationship between Nancy and her frenemy Celia Hodes (Elizabeth Perkins).  Celia is that super perfect/judgmental mom who serves as Nancy’s foil, first by trying to ruin her and later as joining her in the drug game.

While the first few seasons in suburbia are the best, the show eventually moves on and the Botwins find themselves in crazy situations every season.  Often, it seems like series creator Jenji Kohan (now the creator of Orange is the New Black) was trying to outdo herself in each season with the wacky, borderline but not quite shark jumping predicaments the Botwins get into (Nancy marrying a Mexican drug kingpin, the Botwins going on the run being two big examples that stand out in my mind.)

Overall it is funny, and there are some interesting cliffhangers and plot twists.  Not to repeat myself, but IMO, the suburbia seasons were the best and then it gets a little goofy from thereon.

I credit this series with giving us more of Mary Louise Parker.  Though she’d been an actress for years (she had a role in 2002’s Red Dragon that springs to mind) this was the show that really put her over the top and now I get to see her in more stuff.

Works for me because she is fabulous.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

“Dayman!  Uh ahh ahh!  Fighter of the Nightman! Uh ahh ahh!  Champion of the Sun!  You’re a master of karate and friendship for everyone…Dayman!”

I can’t believe this show has been on the air for ten going on eleven damn years.

BQB here with a review of FX’s long running comedy series, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I can’t quite put my finger on the exact date but at some point in the early to mid 2000s, the traditional sitcom format died.

Don’t get me wrong.  Surf the channels enough and you can still find that sappy “the dad is so dumb and the kids are so smart and mom’s the best” show somewhere, but by and large, people started gravitating towards non-traditional sitcoms.

Always Sunny does involve a situation – four friends and their elderly friend/step-father (depending on the character) own and operate a dive bar in Philadelphia.

In their spare time, which they have oodles of because they avoid hard work and contributing to society at all costs, they undertake a series of schemes, scams, and cons in a never ending quest to get rich overnight without having to do anything for it.

Situation? Check. Comedy? Check. Traditional? No.

Our characters are:

  • Charlie Kelly (Charlie Day) – the bar’s janitor and rat killer, naive dummy, epically disgusting dumpster diver, eternally obsessed with a woman we are only introduced to as “the waitress.”
  • Ronald “Mac” McDonald (Rob McElhenney) – Obsessed with 1980s action films, physical fitness and martial arts.  Always wears sleeveless shirts to show off his guns.  He’s not really that cut but believes himself to be.  Constantly checking out other men’s physiques, claiming purely as an appreciator of muscles but the running joke is he is clearly gay and overcompensates to avoid admitting it.
  • Dennis Reynolds (Glenn Howerton) – Narcissistic sociopath.  Obsessed with himself, literally no lie he isn’t willing to tell or bad act he isn’t willing to carry out to get himself ahead or to get into a woman’s pants.  Inventor of the D.E.N.N.I.S. system to pick up chicks.
  • Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds – Dennis’ twin sister.  Good looking woman but suffers low self esteem due to constantly being called a “bird” but her brother and dumb friends.  Dreams of becoming an actress.  Has no talent and sadly, unable to recognize this fact.
  • Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito) – Dennis and Dee’s step-father.  Has amassed great wealth due to a variety of illegal activity over the years.  Could live in style but prefers to slum it as Charlie’s roommate. Big time scumbag who teaches the youngsters how to be scumbags.

I’ve watched this show since the beginning and wow has the time flew.

I’ll say this – there are times where I have laughed hysterically, times when I thought it was pretty creative and yes, even a few times where I thought, “well, they might being going a tad too far there.”

How they have remained friends so long, I don’t know. Its nothing but a sea of them calling each other names, backstabbing and trash talking one another and so on.

Every week, they try a new scheme or get themselves into a bind.

Here are some of the most memorable off the top of my head, in no particular order:

  • Dayman/Nightman Song aka “The Nightman Cometh” – Charlie writes a musical and is too stupid to realize that it is filled with sexually explicit innuendo.
  • Kitten Mittens – Just how it sounds. Charlie puts mittens on kittens.
  • “World Series Defense” – the gang explains to a judge a terrible ordeal they had while trying to attend the World Series. Charlie dawns his “green man costume” and a generation of drunk frat boys running around in face-less green suits is born.
  • “Dennis and Dee Go on Welfare” – and to convince the welfare office they’re destitute and hopeless, they acquire and smoke crack….and become hooked. You wouldn’t think crack is a funny subject but darned if they didn’t find a way.
  • “Who Pooped the Bed?” – a poop is found in a bad. The gang, in classic whodunnit mystery style, becomes determined to solve the crime.
  • “Storm of the Century” – a massive storm heads Philly’s way.  Dennis becomes obsessed a well endowed TV weather girl, so much so much so that whenever he spots her ample bosom, he hears the lyrics to the 1980s hit song “Alone” by Heart.  He spots the boobs, he hears and apparently thinks, “Till know…I always got by own my own…” Priceless.

I don’t know. I could go on forever with my favorite episodes. If I do, I’ll ruin them. You should just go on Netflix and watch them.

Above all else, what I love about this show is that it was created by a group of friends who were trying to make a go of it in Hollywood and after struggling for years, got together, made their show, sold it to FX and were even able to get a well-known star like Danny DeVito to not only sign on in the second season but to be willing to completely debase himself over and over again for a decade.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, 3.5 readers.  If things aren’t working out, take a page from the Always Sunny crew and make things happen (but uh, try to not be so alcoholic…or gross…or engage in any of their 9 million bad habits.)

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)

“All of this has happened before and will happen again.”

Umm…except no matter what, my site will only have 3.5 readers before and again.

Seriously, it’s like shouting into the deepest reaches of space here!

I just hope if a Cylon gets me its the Tricia Helfer model.  Awooga!

BQB here with a review of Battlestar Galactica.

Just so that we’re all on the same page here, I’m talking about BSG that aired on the SyFy channel in the 2000s, not the 1970s original where the actors wore capes and the cylons looked like tin cans and shit.

This show was a real coup for sci-fi nerds.  After all, it isn’t like anyone was really clamoring for a remake of the cheesy 70s version, but series rebooter Ronald Moore delivered and delivered big time.

Twelve colonies, all named after the astrological signs, are filled with humans who work together under one government.

Alas, the cylons (robots run amuck) blow shit up big time.

In a surprise turn of events, Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) becomes the president as every other head of state above her dies.

Thereafter, Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos), at the command of Battlestar Galactica, leads a convoy of ships filled with humans on an epic search for the mythical lost planet known as “Earth.”

You might have heard of it. You’re sitting on it, dummy.

Along the way, there’s political intrigue, backstabbing, sex, violence, and the constant fear that someone in the ranks might in secret, be a damn traitorous cylon as, what a twist, Cylons are able to take human form now.

Did I mention that the Cylons chase the humans all over space? Cy-douches if you ask me.

Over the years, SyFy has given us such wondrous films as Sharknado and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf.

In other words, you sort of get the impression that they phone most of their shit in, but somehow, everyone involved with this show was firing on all cylinders. Why they haven’t been able to recreate this success before or after is beyond me.

Add to the mix the exploits of space fighter pilots Lee “Apollo” Adama aka the admiral’s son (Jamie Bamber) and super hot nerd fantasy girl Katee Sackhoff as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace and you’ve got a great show.

Honestly, the show could have introduce Katee Sackhoff to the world and stopped there. She’s built a career on starring in sci-fi nerd movies/shows ever since and I hope she never stops.

Oh, and there’s James Callis as the duplicitous scheming super weenie Dr. Gaius Baltar who, we learn early on, basically helped the Cylons destroy humanity through his douchebaggery and then somehow he must hide this info from his human compatriots throughout the series or be thrown out the airlock.

Yup.  Somebody was always getting thrown out that airlock, often at the behest of grumpy Cylon hater Colonel Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan.)

I hate to say it, 3.5 readers, but this isn’t available on Netflix at present.

However, you can check it out on Hulu and if you’re a sci-fi space geek, it is worth the subscription fee, even if you just decide to subscribe until you’ve binge watched the whole thing.

And it is binge worthy. There are many cliff hangers and ongoing arcs, plot points you can’t help but want to see resolved.

And Moore and co. are creative in taking pieces of our earthly world and implanting them in the BSG world with the suggestion that the culture we experience now has its roots in this ancient space faring group of explorers.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Burn Notice (2007-2013)

“Being a spy means having to do things you don’t want to do…like sitting through another one of BQB’s television reviews…”

Burnt spy + hot Irish babe/demolitions expert + hard drinking, wise cracking buddy + spy’s mom = a funny action series you should have paid more attention to when it was on the air.

But that’s ok. You can still catch it on Netflix.

BQB here with a review of Burn Notice.

The show begins with government super spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) being “burned.”

As he explains during the show’s title sequence, his agency, without explaining why,  disavows him, writes him off, leaves him without any money or references and seeing as how Mike doesn’t have any job experience he can publicly admit, little in the way of skills he can use to make a legit living.

Thus, Mike moves back home to Florida to be closer to his elderly mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless of Cagney and Lacey fame.)

Mike forms a crew with:

  • His girlfriend, Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar), a demolitions expert who, often to hilarious effect, wants to blow up everything first and ask questions later.
  • Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), a fast talking degenerate/con artist/former Navy seal.

I love this show because to me, it felt like a modern day A-Team.  Just as the A-Team used their soldier skills to help people in need, Mike, Fiona and Sam form their own team and use their skills to help various residents of Florida save themselves from all manner of criminals and reprobates.

Now, keep in mind the show aired on USA, and not to cast aspersions, but USA is most likely your grandma’s favorite channel.

Ergo, USA shows tend to be simple (though I hear that might be changing with Mr. Robot as of late.)

Thus, the Burn Notice formula:

  • Beginning and end of the episode is about Mike’s ongoing quest to figure out who burned him and why he was burned.
  • In the middle, Mike, Sam or Fiona meet someone, often a nice civilian who has run afoul of some criminal.
  • Mike and the gang use their skills to help the person in need. Mike uses his spy skills. Fiona blows shit up. Sam uses his well worn alias “Chuck Finley” to sweet talk someone into giving up some information.
  • In fact, the trio often dust off their acting skills, using terrible accents and poorly crafted back stories to worm their way into the confidence of various criminal organizations before making their move.  If you suspend disbelief, its fun.

On top of all that, the Florida scenery is beautiful.

Mike even recruits his mom to help from time to time and there are a number of series regulars who come in and out.  Towards the end of the series, Coby Bell joins the group as Jesse Porter, a spy who, ironically, Michael burns.

I loved this show.  I looked forward to it when it was on every week as an escape. And it was one of few shows I was able to start when it was already on the air for a couple of years and understand what was going on before I eventually went back and watched the episodes I missed.

Somehow, the writers were able to balance the need for USA viewers to be able to understand what is happening if they just happen to start watching an episode at random with the audience’s desire to have interesting, compelling story lines.

I ended up caring about all of these characters and moreover, from start to finish, the writers make it clear that they care about you, the viewer.

Michael narrates each episode and explains his gadgets, strategies, plans, etc., usually with “Being a spy means…”

As Michael explains what he is up to, sometimes it is fun to watch to see if he can actually pull it off.

And everyone needs a girlfriend like Fiona and a buddy like Sam.

IMO, Donovan and Anwar are both underutilized by Hollywood and deserve more movie roles.

Bruce Campbell is a laugh riot and this role breathed much deserved life into his career.

Check it out, 3.5 readers.

Don’t forget to grab a yogurt. Mike loves his yogurt.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Archer (2009 – )

Bawk bawk.

I have no idea how this show was ever made or how it has lasted as long as it has.

Mind you, that’s not because it is bad, but because it defies any kind of usual TV show parameters, rules, guidelines or what have you and is therefore laugh out loud funny.

BQB here with a review of FX’s Archer, which has just wrapped up its seventh season with no end in sight.

In this adult cartoon (or should I say cartoon for adults?) H. Jon Benjamin voices Sterling Archer who is essentially a walking personification of the word “douche.” He is a world class spy so he has the skills and looks to back up his cocky demeanor, but he generally treats everyone like crap and gets away with it because his mother, Malory (Jessica Walterowns the independent contractor spy agency (originally dubbed the International Secret Intelligence Service or I.S.I.S which obviously, due to current events, had to be changed a couple years ago.)

  • FYI Jessica Walter played Charlie Sheen’s snooty rich mother on Two and a Half Men as well as the snooty rich mother on Arrested Development and therefore she has a lock on all snooty rich mother roles in the comedy world.  She deserves it as she knocks the snooty rich mother role out of the park.

Archer has an on again/off again romance with fellow agent Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler) who suffers the burden of being the only responsible adult in a crew full of dummies.

Those dummies include:

  • Cheryl Tunt  (Judy Greer) – the agency’s insane, oddball fetish having secretary.C
  • Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) – Total nerd who serves as the agency’s comptroller/bean counter who also has the hots for Lana.
  • Pam Poovey (Amber Nash) – Chubby potty mouthed HR rep with impulse control problems, known for her pearls and occasional dolphin hand puppet.
  • Doctor Krieger (Lucky Yates) – Mad scientist. Clone of Adolf Hitler though looks nothing like Hitler. In love with an anime hologram.
  • Ray Gillette (Adam Reed, who is the creator of the series) – Openly gay pilot/agent.  In fairness, Ray has it more together than the rest of the crew, though their incompetence regularly causes him to lose a limb or a body part as a running gag.

Speaking of running gags, the show is full of them. “Phrasing” is the best one that comes to mind. Say something that sounds remotely dirty and Archer will hit you with “phrasing” as in “you could have phrased that better.”

Archer loves 1970s action movies and is a devotee of Burt Reynolds.  Burt and many other stars have made cameos as either themselves or other characters. Being cartoonized as an Archer character has sort of become a sign than an actor/actress has made it in Hollywood (or at the very least, they have a good sense of humor.)

Animation has definitely allowed the show runners to get away with things that would never fly in live action. Somehow drawings of butts make it to TV but real butts are a no no. Oh well. I’m not a prude or anything I’m just wondering how the censors make this distinction.

Six seasons are available on Netflix.  They’re short, roughly twenty minutes long, so a good show to check out if you need a quick distraction.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy

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TV Review – Mad Men (2007-2015)

Dun dun…dun dun…dun dun….dun dun…cartoon silhouette of a man falling out of a window combined with violin music.

Hard drinking, chain smoking 1960s advertising men and Christina Hendricks’s jumbotrons = a compelling historical drama.

BQB here with a review of Mad Men.

3.5 readers, I like to consider myself an educated person. I read books and shit after all.

But few shows brought to life for me the women’s rights struggles as this show did.

Ironically, that’s not what the show is about but it is what I’ll probably always remember it for.

The set-up – Don Draper (Jon Hamm) lives the life of a free wheeling, perpetually fornicating Madison Avenue advertising executive (aka he is a “Mad Man.”)

Because its the 1960s, he’s pretty much free to boink any babe he wants and just tell his wife he had to stay late at work if she asks any questions.

In fact, his comrades at the firm pretty much do the same thing.  His boss, Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and his underling Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) rival Don in their hard drinking, smoking, and extramarital affairs.

We often look to the past as simpler, more innocent times yet this show does put on display things that were commonplace in the past that would turn a head today, the most glaring example that everyone at the firm has their own fully stocked bar in their office and walking around the office with a cocktail in one hand and a smoke in the other happened all the time.

Good luck trying that today.

The formula is pretty standard:

  • Don cheats on his wife because he was once a poor bum who never thought he’d amount to anything and now that he is on top and the world is his oyster he feels this driving need to drink, smoke and boink as much as possible before his life is over.
  • Extramarital boinking is fun for five minutes but then he realizes family is the real deal, that one night stands will never bring him the long lasting happiness that being a family man will.
  • Don decides to straighten up only to start boinking again. In his defense, women just throw themselves at him so it is hard to avoid the boinking. It is easy for me to say that I’m not an evil boinker since no one is offering to boink me.
  • Don’s colleagues at the firm all experience the “be faithful to your spouse vs. boink while you can” conundrum.
  • Along the way, we learn a lot about the history of commercial advertising, how some of the advertising campaigns that fool us into buying crap we don’t need got started and continue today.

There are times when the show seems tedious, like it is going nowhere.  I get the main premise, i.e. love the one that’s loyal to you because the side action will never be as loyal.

If I didn’t bear a striking resemblance to a gargoyle, I would take this to heart and tell the side action to take a hike. Alas, I am too hideous to attract side action.

But maybe I’m the lucky one. Maybe Don would have been better off if he weren’t so damn handsome and having so many women throwing themselves at him, demanding that he be unfaithful.

I mentioned the women’s rights movement earlier.  So, what I noticed is that Betty (January Jones) who is super hot and frankly, would be enough for me (I’d be racing home from the office to get all up in that) basically has to put up with Don’s bullshit.

She’s a housewife. No money. No career. No job prospects. If you’re a 1960s housewife and your husband cheats on you, your choices are a) put up with it and lose your dignity or b) leave and be poor because the best job you’ll be able to find is waitressing if you’re lucky and also you’ll lose the kids because your husband has the money to hire a lawyer and you don’t.

So thanks a lot, Don, you big time douche. Dudes like you who had no idea how good you had it created a world where women had to take charge and alas, I don’t have January Jones waiting for me when I come home now.

Aside from the man drama, you also have Joan (Hendricks) and her enormous sweater cannons, which are basically characters in and of themselves and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) paving the way for women in business, showing what working women had to go through.

Throughout the series, we see Peggy go from mousey secretary to female Don Draper while Joan must navigate her way through a sea of perverts who want access to her sweater cannons on her quest to be taken seriously as a businesswoman.

All seven seasons available on Netflix. Set your TV to widescreen mode so you can take in Joan’s chest rockets in their entirety.

Seriously, its like watching a movie when you the theater is packed and you have to sit in that damn row that’s right up against the screen.  You have to look to the left to see the left boob then crane your neck to the right just to see the right boob.

Very stressful.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Breaking Bad (2008-2013)

I am the one who reviews!

High school chemistry teacher with cancer + his former student who calls everyone “bitch” = show that most critics would agree is the best television show of the twenty first century thus far.

BQB here with a review of Breaking Bad.

When this show came out in 2008, someone close to me had just died from cancer, so I wasn’t interested at all.  I saw the previews for it and was like, “eh” then I saw the previews for Showtime’s The Big C, a show that came out around the same time about a woman trying to keep her life together while fighting cancer and I was just like, “Look Hollywood, cancer is not funny or glamorous and it is the last thing I want to see on TV when I’m looking for an escape, thank you very much.”

So the years passed and then somewhere in the early 2010s I heard people talking about this show so I gave it a chance on Netflix and was immediately hooked.  And from what I’ve heard, the invention of streaming media breathed life into this and a lot of other shows.

Because when you think about it, a show about a high school chemistry teacher dying from cancer doesn’t exactly sound like good time appointment viewing, but once it was available in a format for people to check out when they had a free moment, boy howdy did they get hooked.

And truth be told, the show isn’t so much about cancer as it is a study of a) the sadness people feel when they reach the end of their lives feeling like they never reached their full potential and b) how much the legal system keeps us all behaving like good doobies without us ever realizing it.

Remove a) the fear of dying because you are already dying and b) the fear/humiliation of ending up in prison (because you’re dying) and the nicest person you know might end up walking down an evil path.

The set-up – Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was, in his youth, a promising chemistry scholar who starts a business with friends Elliot (Adam Godley) and Gretchen (Jessica Hecht).

Walter sells his share of the company early, the company becomes huge, like Facebook huge.  Meanwhile, Walter grows old and bitter, having spent his life in mediocrity as a high school teacher with a part time job at a car wash just to make ends meet.

Somehow he manages to snag a hot wife, Sklyer (Anna Gunn) while his son, Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) oozes happiness and gets along as a typical teenager despite a handicap.

When Walt is diagnosed with terminal cancer, his despair over his untapped potential haunts him. He’ll die without using his genius brain to make it big.

Alas, his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), a DEA agent, takes Walt on a ride along.  Walt catches a glimpse of just how much cash a good drug dealer rakes in and the little hamster starts rolling around the wheel in his brain.

What begins as an idea to use his chemistry know how to cook crystal meth in order to leave some extra cash behind for his family turns into a long journey into the proverbial heart of darkness, as Walt uses his smarts and fearlessness (because, hey, he’s dying anyway) to rise to the highest ranks of the criminal underworld.

He takes on Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), his former student turned junkie as his partner in crime and together, they become expert meth cooks.  As Jesse becomes like a second son to Walter, their relationship is sometimes tragic and sometimes even hilarious.

Add to the mix criminal lawyer (the show stresses you are to read this as a “lawyer who is a criminal”) Saul Goodman (veteran comedian Bob Odenkirk) who steals the show with his obnoxious TV lawyer ads.  Saul teaches the boys how to launder their money, dodge law enforcement, get out of trouble, etc. etc.

Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) is the old ex-cop/problem fixer that Walt works with. The combination of the grizzled old man who has seen and done it all and the chemistry teacher who sees things through gentrified eyes is comical.

Meanwhile, Giancarlo Esposito as crime boss Gus Fring is one of the scarier bad guys on television.

Throughout the series, Walt struggles to keep his public and private lives separate.  He continues to pose as a good dad and husband while sneaking off to cook meth and deal with criminals with Jesse.

All the while, lovable Hank, and I do mean lovable, is chasing some criminal without realizing the man he wants is his beloved brother-in-law that he spends the weekends with grilling burgers and shooting the breeze.

If anything, the Hank/Walt dynamic is what really makes the show. The show runners could have made Hank the stereotypical tough guy cop but instead they made Hank an average joe.  He loves his wife, Skyler’s sister Marie (Betsy Brandt), loves his in-laws Walt and Skyler, loves his nephew Walt Jr. and brews beer in his garage as a hobby.  He is, one might say, a true mensch.

The star of the series is Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator and man behind the scenes.  Every detail, every little thing that happens means something.  Take notes as you watch because if someone so much as sneezes it will turn out to be important later. Not letting a single second of time go wasted has become Gilligan’s signature.

So many shows take off and then descend into chaos.  The actors get too big for their britches and want to leave for bigger, better things.  Ironically, prior to this show, Bryan Cranston wasn’t that well known, his other biggest acting gig having been as the father on Malcolm in the Middle.

Like Walt, Bryan found fame and fortune late in life (albeit legally) but he never forgot the viewers and juggled all the big movie roles that came his way with Breaking Bad, keeping it all together to keep the show going.

And sometimes writers run out of gas, but Vince and company keep viewers on the edge of their seats to the very end.

In fact, if you’re a wannabe writer, I highly suggest checking out this show. (At present, all five seasons are available on Netflix.)

And catch the prequel, Better Call Saul on AMC. It doesn’t have a lot to do with Breaking Bad but you get to learn how Saul and Mike worked together before Walt came along.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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TV Review – Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014)

“Riding through this world…something something…a crow flies straight, look at us we’re all in leather…”

Guns. Bikes. Unlikely plots.

BQB here with a review of FX’s Sons of Anarchy.

It has been off the air a couple years now, but surely you can find this show somewhere out there in the stream-a-verse.  In fact, at the time of this writing, Netflix has all seven seasons available.

Travel back with me to 2008, 3.5 readers. A show called The Sopranos had just wrapped up a year before and was groundbreaking in its ability to bring viewers to cable movie channels.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to copy the Sopranos by putting out a TV show featuring a crime family. “It’s the Sopranos on a boat! It’s the Sopranos in space!”

Who knew that a show that was “Sopranos on motorcycles” would last for seven seasons?

Ironically, “Hamlet with Bikers” would be a better alternate title as the conflict between Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), his mother, Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal) and his step-father, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) was the overall main plot point of the series.

The set-up?  Years prior to the start of the show, Jax’s after, John and Clay started the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club.  John died under mysterious circumstances, Clay marries Gemma and as a grown man, Jax reads his father’s letters (because if it is one thing bikers are known for it is their prolific writings) detailing his hopes that “SAMCRO” would one day become a legitimate organization for gear heads to bond together in the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood, yadda yadda yadda.

Not happening under Clay’s watch.

And thus, the Sons of Anarchy formula is born:

  • The Sons agree to push drugs, run guns, or engage in some other illegal activity in league with another criminal organization.
  • Shit hits the fan and the Sons are shocked, absolutely SHOCKED to learn that pushing drugs, running guns, or conducting other illegal activities causes all manner of dangerous consequences.
  • The Sons want out of the aforementioned illegal activity, but to get out of it, they must somehow do some sort of illegal task for the criminal organization they aligned themselves with, or engage in more illegal activity on the behalf of a new criminal organization in order to get them to take on the job they signed up to do for the original criminal organization.
  • When all is said and done, the Sons expend massive amounts of time, energy, money, manpower, and yes, even life as members of their ranks are killed all the time and yet they never, ever turn a profit on any of the illegal activity they engage in. They are, by far, the worst criminals in the history of crime and one wonders why they don’t just take half the time, money and energy they use on crime and put it towards legitimate enterprise.

In fact, every week when this show was on the air, I yearned for the following scene that never happened:

:::Jax and the boys gather around the table.:::

JAX: OK. We need money. Any ideas?

TIG: Let’s sell drugs!

JUICE: Let’s run guns!

RANDOM MEMBER: Let’s take our profits from the Teller-Morrow Garage, utilize the assistance of a reputable asset management planner to invest in stocks and bonds that yield positive dividends and then use the proceeds to start more garages, gas stations, and tow truck companies, thereby taking our love of automobile repair and using it to become respectable members of society.

:::Gang looks at each other:::

JAX: Take a walk, Random Member. You’re out of the club! Surrender your cut!

FYI – “surrendering your cut” means taking away your spiffy Sons of Anarchy vest, by far the worst and most humiliating punishment one can suffer in the SAMCRO organization.

Every TV show requires you to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, this one more than others.

The fact that no one in the club ever thinks, “Gee whiz, I could make more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s than I do as Jax’s lackey” is something that you’re never supposed to think about, nor are you supposed to consider the fact that if the Sons would take all the planning skills they use to concoct their elaborate schemes, they could probably put those skills to work in legit fields.

I know whenever I see someone in the Fast and Furious hacking twenty computers at the same time I end up wondering why they just don’t get a job in Silicon Valley and the same logic applies here.

Above all else, you are also not supposed to ask yourself why Jax’s girlfriend, the beautiful Dr. Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) gives Jax the time of day.

Jax and Tara had once been teenage sweethearts.  At the start of the show, Tara has become a doctor and returns to town to take a position as a surgeon (yes, she is a surgeon dating a motorcycle gang leader but you aren’t supposed to scratch your head over that one at all.)

Look I get it. Love makes people do strange things. The heart wants what it wants.

All I’m saying is that if I’m Jax and I’ve got a super hot doctor girlfriend, I’m going to be all like, “OK you shitheads have fun running those guns, I’m going to chill at home and change the kids’ diapers while my wife brings home the bacon. Shit, maybe I’ll get a part-time job at Auto Zone and get my two year associate’s degree to make the little woman proud.”

Sigh. Lady doctors, you’re all so unappreciated by your motorcycle gang leader boyfriends.

Funny thing about the show though is that as unlikely as the story arcs were, they got the fans talking about the show and if people are talking about your show, then you’ve struck gold.

And to show creator Kurt Sutter’s credit, that gold lasted seven seasons.

Charlie Hunnam is great as the morally conflicted Jax who yearns to go legit yet always has one more criminal misdeed to carry out to save his family and/or friends (again, put the “why doesn’t he just let his doctor girlfriend handle the money” question out of your mind).

Dayton Callie also provides an excellent performance as Wayne Unser, the equally morally conflicted police chief of Charming, California who begrudgingly works with the Sons out of a fear that they protect the town from worse evils.

Worth checking out but…suspend disbelief and uh…have a strong stomach as the bikers and various criminals aren’t exactly kind to each other throughout the show, as you might imagine.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.

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