Banshee Renewed for a Third Season

Do you love to see intimidating Amish mobsters dump cow viscera into hot tubs?  Or policewomen beating their ex-husbands to the brink of death with a Bible?  Or perhaps you’re more of an old-fashioned gal and just appreciate the simple pleasures of snarky cross-dressing computer hackers blowing up hair salons? If you answered yes to one or all three of these questions (and let’s be honest, you answered yes to all three of these questions because obviously), then you’ll be delighted by Cinemax’s recent announcement that Banshee has been renewed for a third season!

I, for one, find this news incredible, as Banshee is one of the most entertaining shows on television.  Also, unbelievably epic fight scenes!  I’m pretty sure the average run-time of a Banshee fight sequence is longer than a round of “Double Jeopardy” and usually more violent depending on Alex Trebeck’s mood.  Regardless, television became a manlier, more-testosterone fueled medium today; I look forward to the further exploits of Lucas Hood, the best fake sheriff/real criminal in all of the land!

Do yourself a favor and check out this show if you haven’t already.  It’s a blast, and it looks like it’s sticking around for awhile!

Parenthood S05E14: “You’ve Got Mold”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of  “eradicating cholera in Mumbai.”

Look, I don’t want to cause you any undo panic or create a crisis or whatever, but right now, you and I (all of us, really) are surrounded by a swirling miasma of #CancerBeams.  Leave it to Zeek Braverman to make technophobia positively charming!  Also, what other character on television could make a curmudgeonly acceptance of Italian roast coffee seem like a life-changing breakthrough?

But seriously, imminent death and coffee beans aside, this was a very solid episode of Parenthood.  Each branch of the Braverman family tree found itself weighted with a quality narrative, but even more important, I sensed a shift in the handling of the season’s most problematically inconsistent character: Joel.

But let’s just dispense with the pleasantries and dive right in, shall we?


Sarah and Hank

Hey, quick question: remember Sarah’s dalliance with playwriting a few seasons ago?  For most of us, that plotline has likely faded into something closely resembling a dream,** but doesn’t that speak to this character’s revolving door of haphazard arcs over the years?  Sure, Lauren Graham has always been phenomenal, but wow is it refreshing to see her photography career carry over from last season. Sarah Braverman needs more than a male counterpart as the lynchpin of her character’s continuity, and her recent employment by Surf Sports is a great place to start.  Plus, more Hank!

**Perhaps because, like the best dreams, Richard Dreyfuss had an extended appearance.  But that could totally just be on my end of things.

I just love Hank’s initial disdain over the fact that Sarah beat him out for the gig.  He’s been in the industry for twenty years, but he thinks her feminine wiles and not genuine talent gave her the edge.  His spontaneous decision to quit (after setting up the big starfish and everything) works great for a few reasons: it allows Sarah to contemplate the possibility that she does have a knack for photo and, perhaps more important, Hank can have a candid chat with Max in the darkroom about the finer points of perseverating.  If the entire episode had been these two having a candid chat on the finer points of perseverating, that would have been wonderful.

Of course, Sarah’s decision to shoot the surfing ad on the beach (go figure) rubs the aggressively practical Hank the wrong way initially, but thanks to a firm boot to the rump by #BuddhaMax, he acquiesces and rescinds his resignation.  In a wonderful montage, we see how successful the photo shoot is because Sarah might, as it turns out, know a thing or two about a thing or two.  Also Hank in sunglasses and a wonderful beach hat.  To celebrate (after a reticent concession that Sarah’s idea worked out), the two bop over to the local dive bar for a cocktail.

As refreshing as Sarah’s continued interest in photography is that Hank is not a viable love interest at this point in time.  How wonderful to see two grown adults of the opposite sex share a completely healthy friendship.  It’s clear there’s more than just a professional relationship underlying their interactions (and that’s fine), but kudos to Parenthood for not just forcing these two back into each other’s romantic lives right off the bat.  That kind of writing takes more nuance and deftness, and I for one appreciate it.

What an absolutely fantastic way to rejuvenate Sarah’s character.  With her ex-husband’s interest in being a father on the proverbial table as well, things are looking up for Sarah Braverman, narratively speaking!  Let’s just hope she doesn’t decide to write a play about it.

Joel and Julia

If I were to boil down the single most successful aspect of this episode, then it would be the clear attempt to reestablish Joel as the guy we all knew so well for four seasons.  Was it just me or did I snatch a few glimpses of the old Joel?***

***If your heart didn’t positively tear asunder during Julia’s tear-laden plea for Joel not to give up on her, then you are made of tougher stuff than I am. And then Joel, like, apologizes and wishes they weren’t at this point?  You mean he’s empathizing with his wife even if they’re on separate wavelengths?  And acting like a real human being?  Well golly!  There’s a thought!

I mean, yeah, he ended up moving out and peering back at his house through tear-blurred eyes, but the road to that decision felt so much more real and organic.  How interesting was the irony of Joel and Julia sort of re-bonding over the planning of how to tell Sydney and Victor about the separation?  He even mentioned how excited they were just a year ago for Victor’s adoption!  Watching Victor and Sydney playing videogames as siblings, Joel remembers that was all they wanted and asks to push back the news.  OMG, that is totes something he would do!  Joel, you are in there somewhere!  Follow the sound of my voice!  We’ll find you yet!

Also worth mentioning, for me, is Victor’s look of stoic denial as the words leave Joel’s mouth–absolutely on the nose and gut-wrenching.  That affected me far more deeply than Sydney’s wail of sadness, which I’m sorry to say, sort of annoyed me?  I know, I know.  I’m terrible.  But so are you because you sort of agree with me?

That this plotline then dovetails with Zeek and Camille makes it all the better.  There is a veritable convergence at the house that Cancer Beams built, what with Crosby and Jasmine crashing there due to rampant #MoldHysteria.  Finally, we get to see Julia break the news to her parents!  And perhaps Camille realizes her presence is forever integral to the Braverman clan!

We killed several birds with one very flexible stone here, and it felt so right having it all go down exactly where it did, particularly in light of Zeek’s recent compromise to downsize!


Kristina & Adam

We all knew Kristina would somehow find a way to put her passion for education too good use, but how cool will it be to watch her build a school from the ground up?  I don’t want to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this plotline is going to make me cry SO MUCH.  I can see it now.

Her decision comes on the heels of a few revelations.  First off, Max’s history teacher keeps sending him to the library when his passionate interest in history interrupts history class.  I’m no expert, but isn’t that sort of every teacher’s dream?  Oh well, what do I know?  Point is, home girl is none too pleased by this and finds herself up against the realities of the American public education system.  In addition, Kristina serves as an educational advocate for the mother of a special needs high school student named Ciara.****

****By the way, the mother is played by Tina Holmes, who previously worked opposite Peter Krause in the brilliant-beyond-superlative-usage HBO series Six Feet Under as Maggie Sibley, and in that series, she totally stole Peter Krause away from his wife.  So, girl, you best keep your man in check!  Mm-hmm!

This is a great next step for Kristina and so true to her character.  Can’t wait for more!

Call me a sucker for  a handful of #CancerBeams and a dash of #MoldHysteria if you must, but holy cow did this episode go a long way in righting some wrongs plaguing the series in its immediate incarnation (Joel) or as a long-running inconsistency (Sarah).  Keep up the awesome work, Parenthood.  We’ll see you after the Olympics!


Conversation Around the Dinner Table

– Zeek: “You’re drinking wine and eating ham.  What a class.”

Camille: “Have some prosciutto.  It’s delicious.”

– Kristina: “I’m going to advocate his ass!”

– Hank: “The boss buys.  It’s like California code.”

Downton Abbey S04E05: “Episode 5”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “enriching the Béchamel.”

Last night’s episode, likely the strongest installment of the fourth season so far, overflowed with huge revelations and critical character moments, and we’ll get to them in due time.  But a man needs his priorities, and my priorities (and heart) lie with Mrs. Patmore.

Back when the premiere first aired, I hoped beyond hope that we had not seen the last of Downton’s delightful cook grappling with newfangled kitchen paraphernalia.   For a few weeks there, all hope seemed lost, as we never had a chance to return to that plot line (what with Anna’s attack taking center stage).  But this patient viewer found himself rewarded twofold last night.  The look of utter horror that overtakes Mrs. Patmore’s face while she watches Baxter, Cora’s newest maid, at work at an automatic sewing machine had me in (pardon the pun) stiches.  She marvels at its automation, unable to grasp the utter witchcraft of that pedal.  The way she hangs back as Baxter mends her torn apron reminded me of a hesitant child approaching a Doberman: curious but not curious enough to get too close.

While Mrs. Patmore could comprehend the benefits of a sewing machine at Downton, our favorite cook very nearly has a coronary when Cora comes downstairs to announce her desire to replace the icebox with a refrigerator.  Poor Mrs. Patmore splutters half-hearted rejoinders, unable to formulate coherent thoughts in this time of unexpected tragedy**.  This sequence is, in my mind, Downton’s equivalent of the Red Wedding.  I’m afraid the Mrs. Patmore we once knew and loved is gone forever. #ArtistFormerlyKnownAsPatmore

** No ice deliveries?  What form of blasphemy is this? 

Interestingly, Patmore’s technological reticence plays into the bigger theme of impending modernity playing out over the course of the episode.  She is not alone in her distrust of change; Robert himself falls victim to his sentimentality.  After a Downton tenant named Drew dies, the significant debt he left behind to his son forces Drew the Younger to relinquish the tenancy in order to pay back Lord Grantham***. Despite Drew the Elder’s debt, Robert considers the family loyal and so decides to defy modern convention and allow his traditionalist leanings to guide him: he allows Drew to stay on, even providing him with financial support to pay off the debt and remain a Downton tenant indefinitely.  Robert knows how hard out there it is for a pimp, so he’ll do anything to fly in the face of advancement!  Take that sociological betterment!  How’s it feel now?  Guys, I think I’m sort of starting to see why Downton totally went bankrupt a few seasons ago because, um, Robert is a real dumb-dumb financially speaking.  But this also shows he might have the burning ember of a heart in that ribcage?  So that’s progress!  Hurray Robert!

***Or something like that?  I didn’t really care about the particulars, and neither did you if we can both pause, cut the BS, and be honest with one another.  There, feel better?

 If we’re keeping it real (and, as you know, that is the only way to keep it when it comes to Downton Abbey), the whole Bates/Anna fiasco ties into the concept of modernity too, as a snapshot of the changing nature of male-female interactions.  While I’ve had my gripes with the rape plot overall, it has admittedly shed some light on this dark corner of women’s history, so that’s something.  Having said that,  boy oh boy was I glad when Bates overhears Mrs. Hughes and Anna talking in code about her attack.  To make a long story short, he threatens to leave Anna forever if Mrs. Hughes doesn’t spill this can of unfortunate beans, so he now knows about her attack, and he really wants to go all Liam Neeson on the culprit.  I mean like legit neck snapping, car door slamming, bridge heaving, electrocuting you while you’re strapped to a chair Neeson.  Not sure about you, but that would very much tickle my fancy.  #Taken3

Anna, of course, wants to protect Bates from the truth because she does not want him to go Neeson for some reason (oh right, jail and stuff).  But underlying all that, of course, she fears Bates will be unable to look beyond the stigma of her as a rape victim.  In a brilliantly subtle and symbolic moment, Bates rests his hand on Anna’s, stopping her from scrubbing those shoes she’s been cleaning since last week. For Bates, she has nothing to scrub from her soul, for she has  been neither spoiled nor sullied; in fact, the needless suffering she’s endured has sanctified her, and his love remains as passionate for her as ever.  Bates is a sensitive, modern man, breaking down and weeping over his wife’s torment****.

****This all works really well, but I can’t help but question the decision to turn Anna’s rape into Bates’s story, as it seems very much like a male writer taking this plotline in a direction he’s more comfortable with.  Still, Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt crushed it.

Meanwhile, Alfred’s all about personal advancement, trying to realize his dreams of being Gordon Ramsay by attending a cooking test for possible employment at the Ritz.  Ultimately, he doesn’t make it (maybe he’s too much beanpole, not enough cream puff?), but Carson hopes this strengthens his resolve while Daisy bounces all around the kitchen, delighted by Alfred’s failure because she is crushing all over that ginger face of his and totally hearts him 4ever.  Seriously, though, I loved this plotline so much because it gave me that idea for Top Chef: Downton that I just came up with now.

When it comes to stagnation, it’s time for #MoseleyWatch!  Looks like Carson figures Alfred’s a shoe-in for that cooking position and offers Moseley a preemptive gig as replacement footman, but Moseley’s still reeling from those gloves he’d have to wear, so he needs to think it over.  In the meantime, Alfred flubs it and returns just as Moseley tells Carson he’ll accept the lowly position.  *Sad trombone*  Oh, Moseley, your misery delights us all so very, very much!  Don’t ever change!

Elsewhere, Thomas and Baxter forge an alliance in douchebaggery, Branson wants to live in America, Robert’s birthday approaches and Rose wants on the party planning committee, Edith might be pregnant, Mr. Napier returns to Downton with eyes on Mary, the Dowager Countess thinks her new gardener is a thief or possibly just a connoisseur of all things Swedish, and did I mention EDITH MIGHT BE PREGNANT?

In short, this episode’s balance of witty comedy and dynamite drama fell in perfect balance, launching it to the front of the season’s installments so far.  We’re halfway through now, and—like the best of Downton—it left me positively clamoring for more.

Until next weekend, Downtonites!


Snippets of Intrigue

– Thomas: “Mrs. Patmore is not what you’d call a futurist.”

– Dowager Countess: “The one thing we don’t want is a poet in the family!”

– Cora: “Is there any aspect of the present day that you can accept without resistance?”

Mrs. Patmore: “Well, my lady, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of my corset.”

– Dowager Countess [on Isobel’s passionate nature]: “Wars have been waged with less fervor.”

– Bates: “Nothing is over, and nothing is done with.”

Community S05E05: “Geothermal Escapism”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of being “a school on 911’s blocked call list.”

Saying goodbye to Troy was never going to be easy.  Even though, going into Community‘s fifth season, we knew this day would come, the foreknowledge did not help me to prepare adequately for the departure of my favorite character.  Last week, the narrative twist that turned Pierce’s death into a set-up for Troy’s exit blindsided me.  And then, Abed’s insistent “cool cool cool” gut-punched me.

In many ways, this episode is a direct response to those closing lines from last week.  That Abed’s parting gift to Troy, a school-wide game of Hot Lava with $50,000 on the line, becomes an astute insight into the psychology of letting go proves that Community is so much more than a joke-machine.  You listening, Big Bang Theory?

I’m not going to belabor the plot machinations of the episode’s first three-quarters too much.  While I enjoyed the Mad Max and Waterworld (lol because why not?) homages throughout, having another parody/spoof so soon after episode three might have undercut its impact a bit.  Great opening credits, plenty to laugh at**, but not a whole lot to really break apart.  As the saying goes, if you have to explain a joke, it stops being funny.

**Professor Hickey deserves the #FTW here.  From his amazing entrance on that makeshift tank mowing down Chang’s Locker Boys gang to his lamentations about his “getting gay married” son’s expensive wedding, Jonathan Banks continues to kill it.

What is worth mentioning is the way the story develops this entire mythos around it, with a new lexicon (floor strider, chair walker, sofa hopper), a quasi-religion, and even a MacGuffin (the orb) all contributing to the overall tone here.  Just further proof of Harmon’s do-it-right-or-don’t-do-it-at-all attitude.  Love it.  Also, so many chair puns I couldn’t even keep track, though the sparring words of “chair to dance?” still ring in my ears.

Oh, and Magnitude playing a post-apocalyptic version of steel drum on Shirley Island?  His journey to that point could have been a subplot in and of itself.

But, as we all know, the story of Troy’s exit had to be the story of his friendship with Abed because, as we expect, it hits him the hardest.   Troy puts it best to Britta, “No one gets Abed.  I got him a little.”  There is something incredibly moving about Abed telling Troy that, for him, the floor really is lava.  It’s his way of processing the emotional reality of his friend’s departure–he can’t let go of Troy, so he devises a game where he cannot relinquish his literal grip, either.  Wow.  So this is what you call a half hour situational comedy, huh?***

***Though Abed’s slow motion fall into the lava to the swells of classic music makes sure things don’t get too serious because this is Community, after all.

The fact that Britta then saves the day with psychology of all things (!) makes me question if perhaps we need to re-define the term “Britta-ed it.”  She and Troy devise a scheme to reanimate and clone Abed (who fake died in the lava pit because obviously), so his clone version can be the one to say goodbye.  To make it even easier on Abed, Troy (admitting he’s as afraid to go as Abed is to lose him) does a backwards free-fall into the lava himself, so that, in the end, it’s just two cloned versions of best friends parting ways.  In any other show and with any other set of characters, this would sound ludicrous.  But for Troy and Abed, whether they’re “in the morning”, “shooting lava”, “sewn together”, or “in slow motion”, this makes absolute sense.  And it’s also incredibly sweet and, somehow, moving?  Dan Harmon, you rascal!

Well, if you managed to keep those eyes dry up to this point in the episode, then the final sequence might have reduced you to a blubbering mess.  (Shut up, you’re the one who’s crying…)  I mean, sure it was a bit predictable, but don’t we sort of expect a scene where the departing character says one final thing to each of his friends?  I thought so.  In this case, predictable’s fine.

Troy wishes he hadn’t ignored Annie in high school so that he could have had four more years of friendship, tells Britta she’s absolutely amazing, labels Jeff the coolest guy he’s ever met, and reminds Shirley she’s not the mom of the group but one certified bad-ass.  And then he shares a final hug with Abed before climbing aboard the Childish Tycoon****.  A final parting gift?  Co-captaining his ship with, of course, Levar Burton.  Fortunately, this meeting goes a little better than the previous one.  And by a little, I mean a lot.  At least Troy can, you know, speak to the man.

****A clever meta-joke referencing Donald Glover’s decision to leave the show in pursuit of his hip-hop career as Childish Gambino.  By the way, the dude can rap; if you haven’t, check out his albums.

In the end, Troy Barnes, whose dim-witted hilarity proved a source of consistent laughter over the years, leaves big shoes to fill at his seat of the study table.  But with returning gags, as well as an honest treatment of his central friendship with Abed, this proved a wonderful send-off that ultimately rendered my initial hesitance moot.  I’m not sure what a Troy-less Community will look like, but I take solace in picturing Mr. (or is it Captain?) Barnes listening to “Come Sail Away” on an unending loop as he cuts a swath through the Pacific Ocean, firing a barrage of questions to Burton.  Maybe somewhere around Indonesia they’ll get to the bottom of that whole Star Trek misnomer.

#BonTroyage indeed.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Jeff: “Do you get kickbacks from Big Buzzkill?”

– Prof. Duncan: “My self-published novels aren’t going to publish themselves!”

– Vicky: “My name is Vicky!  Tell my story!”

– Troy: “I had a dream like this, but it was sexual!”

– And, for a final time: “Troy and Abed in a buuuuuubble!”

Top Chef S11E15: “Leaving New Orleans”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “teaching Emeril to cook.”

I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I’m pretty sure I carry considerable influence with the executive producers of Top Chef.  If you’ve followed my recaps on the season, you’ll know that Nick and I have not been getting along.  He thinks I’m pushy; I think he’s a jerkface.  Clearly, the producers felt our animosity had to end, so they kickstarted this episode with Nick’s heartfelt confession about wanting to make his dad, who happens to be afflicted with Parkinson’s, proud.  For a brief moment, my heart began to thaw; I didn’t care for the foreign sensation of warmth–I was scared and needed to be held.

Fortunately, Shirley intervened and called Nick a total a-hole.  And we’re back!  Thanks, Shirl, for dragging me back to reality!  Because, let’s lay the cards on the table here, folks.  I hate to beat a dead horse and everything, but I have no problem beating up on Nick.

This week’s Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here) was a not just a two-parter.  It also happened to be the dreaded car challenge.  Loyal viewers know that winning the car pretty much means you simultaneously might as well start packing your knives, which gives me pause.  Why are the cheftestants consistently so excited for this challenge?  I mean, yeah, it’s a car.  But it’s no quarter of a mill.  All I’m saying.

Anyhow, the chefs had to participate in a two-roud challenge, first impressing Gail with one complete experience in a single bite and then wowing Tom by highlighting a veg (what we call vegetables in the food service industry).

The first challenge forced Nick to reflect on his need for self-editing**, but when Shirley started talking about the plumpness of her cherries, my cheeks started to burn.  Girl, you bad!

**Though, oddly, it did not prevent yet ANOTHER paranoid delusion about a phantom competitor tampering with the temperature of his deep fryer.  This guy!  #FryerGate

In the process of the tasting, Gail struggled with her forking skills.  When she finally managed, Carlos’s mango shrimp and Nick’s meat and potatoes (with a purple potato chip because UGH) bested the ladies.  Thanks, Top Chef for sending women’s lib back to the stone age!  I’m surprised Gail didn’t slap Nina’s and Shirley’s bums and demand them to collaborate on a pie on their way out.

My heart began to flutter.  Nick was through to the next round!  Suddenly, I found myself rooting for him to continue the show’s track record of sending home the car winner; this despite him getting to the veggie table before Carlos and boasting about his high school varsity track record (really?).  But then he had to go and cut eggplant into a scallop because Nick hates each and every one of us, so Carlos’s simple but elegant pepper soup emerged the victor.

Carlos, NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  Stop dancing and demand a re-taste!  Spit in your own food!  Do something!

But before you could say eggplant scallops, it came time for the Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here).  Before relocating to Hawaii for the finale, the chefs had to create one last dish that summarized their New Orleans experience, then prepare that meal in Emeril’s flagship restaurant.***

***Nick waxed poetic and claimed that his New Orleans experience had humbled him, which worried me a great deal because I’m starting to think maybe Nick might not have a level-headed view of himself?

Anyway, Carlos prepared a seafood tamale without corn (nifty idea), Nina dove into Italian fare with speckled trout and some kind of mini-biscuit, Shirley wanted us to take a trip down the bayou with black drum fish, and Nick prepared roughly ten thousand mini-morsels of fish in a broth.  This might sound judgmental, but Nick’s dish was basically a pile of garbage next to everyone else’s.  Also, I’m worried he might have a glandular problem because two minutes in the kitchen, and the man started to sweat like he’d just been water boarded.

Nina forgot to plate her mini-biscuits and completely lost her mind, apologizing for her catastrophic mistake in front of the judges in a mishap that pretty much came across like the Top Chef version of the Holocaust.  Little did Nina know that Tom was all like, “Yo, yo, yo.  For you, for me, for you, this didn’t even need that ricotta dumpling, dawg!” (Maybe I’m confusing Tom with Randy Jackson?)

Later, in a sequence that really strained my understanding of good taste, the judges wanted to bathe in Shirley’s broth and rub it into their naughty bits, so we all assumed Shirley won.  And guess what?  She did!  Because #ButterSauce!

Emeril felt personally affronted that Carlos didn’t wrap his seafood tamale in a banana leaf, while some of Nick’s fish felt underseasoned for what I can only postulate the ninety-eight zillionth time this season (plus or minus one or two).

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), the producers seemed like they wanted to make up for past mistakes.  Reflecting on their collective sexism from earlier, the judges let the ladies sail through to the finale, leaving the gents on the bottom.

On the one hand, my heart began to flutter again.  Could this be the moment?  Was Nick doomed at last?  Or would Carlos fulfill the prophecy of the Doomed Car Winner?  For a glorious moment, I thought the former possible.  Padma was all like, “Um, ya’ll want to send some chump into the finale who still can’t quite grasp the purpose of salt?”  And all the judges nodded solemnly.  In that moment, Padma’s beauty seemed more radiant than ever.

But guess whaaaat?

Seems like Nick and the witches of American Horror Story: Coven have been holding clandestine meetings.  How else to explain the fact that NICK IS JOINING SHIRLEY AND NINA IN THE FINALE?  Carlos went home because of the dark arts at work, folks.  Nothing makes sense any more.  I’d like to thank Top Chef for making me question the very fabric of everything I hold dear.  Had I known, when it began, that this season would cause me to embark on a philosophical journey of the soul, I might have packed more cornsilk.

Next week, the chefs will meet up in Hawaii and learn the identity of the winner of Last Chance Kitchen.  That means the two part finale has begun!  Let’s just hope Nick leaves his tiresome tomfoolery on the mainland.

Hey, a guy can hope!

In Memoriam: “Family Tree”

“Family Tree”


HBO giveth, and HBO taketh away.  The hilarious and heartfelt (but, admittedly, under-watched) comedy from the mind of Christopher Guest struggled to find an audience from the minute it began airing in the spring of 2013.  But for those who treasured its eight episodes of pleasant quirkiness, Tom Chadwick’s multi-continental genealogical journey to trace the roots of his family tree provided delights in abundance.  But, what’s more, it allowed the likes of Chris O’Dowd to grace our screens each and every week.

It was too young to go, but sometimes the ones that shine brightest are too good for this world and their time spent too short.  So, now, we must say goodbye, part ways like lovers at an airport (seriously, we’re never going to get resolution on that?!).  Let us neither  cry nor mourn its passing but celebrate a life well-lived.  A life of Britcom obsession, Civil War reenactments, owl collections, Abe Lincoln impersonators, insensitive comments about  American Indian culture, disturbing farm work, and Fred Willard’s double entendres.  But, perhaps most important of all, this will be a show remembered for starting the conversation on a hitherto unrecognized brand of hate: mythical racism.

In the face of this tragedy, we must act like the formidable rear of the two-man horse costume: sturdy in the face of unspeakable tribulation.  In short, let’s do what Monkey would: hide behind a wall of biting sarcasm to mask the pain lurking beneath.  Also, ruin children’s birthday parties.  It’s the way “Family Tree” would’ve wanted it.

We’ll miss you, old friend, though we hardly knew ye.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the charity “Unlucky Charms.”  Let’s rein in the hate in honor of our fallen friend.

Parenthood S05E13: “Jump Ball”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “Bisquick.”

When an episode of Parenthood fires on all cylinders, I can typically attribute its success to a narrative device I have been a sucker for as long as I can remember: pairing two characters who don’t often share a great deal of screen time.  Doing this gives me the equivalent of short-term memory loss; as soon as we cut back to the unlikely duo sharing the screen, I forget about a plot I might not care for otherwise (ahem, Julia and Joel).  What I’m trying to say here is that I love when Parenthood gives me the working memory of a goldfish.

And, fortunately for us, that’s exactly what we had this week!  I found myself rediscovering nooks and crannies of the same fishbowl, so let’s get to it!

Camille & Zeek 

Great news: Camille is back from Italy with a new bohemian haircut!  I loved how the sequence of Camille’s return home uses contrast to show us what’s going on for this couple: Zeek’s palpable excitement smashing up against Camille’s equally palpable ambivalence.  Need proof?  Just check out Zeek’s silly smile spreading across his face as he bounces around to open car doors for his wife, or the fact the he organized a Welcome Home Party with the whole Braverman clan.**

**Sydney, in an effort to perpetuate her bratty image, demands recompense from her grandmother for deigning the party with her saintly presence, demanding gifts as soon as Camille walks through the front door. Ugh.  The worst.

We can tell Camille’s not really feeling the vibe of this party (maybe there’s too much Sydney and not enough pasta fagioli?), but it’s not until later that we learn what’s exactly going on for her.  All we know is that, suddenly, she seems confined at home, darting off to meet fellow artistes at the MoMA within hours of settling back in.  Zeek, in an effort to close a rift he clearly feels, makes reservations at an expensive Italian restaurant so the two of them can reconnect.  Because hasn’t it felt like forever since they have?

At dinner, Camille realizes that life in the Braverman world continued in her absence, what with Kristina’s mayoral bid and Amber’s dissolved engagement.  She claims she’s not needed anymore, which she finds positively liberating.  Is it just me or is Camille totally having a late mid-life crisis?  But instead of buying a bright red sports car, she’s indulging in European art retreats?  Her newest plan, without consulting her husband, is to leave for France in a few months, and Zeeks–clearly angry–applauds his wife for having it all figured out.  Camille either doesn’t care to or outright doesn’t notice her husband’s hurt.

I’m loving this plot and what it will likely force Zeek to do: participate in Camille’s adventures and give him some new experience.  Also, the thought of Zeek donning a beret as he scoffs at a butter-and-brie baguette while sitting alongside the Seine is sort of the greatest image of all time.  Please make that happen!

Adam & Hank

For me, the pairing of these two characters was the most artfully and subtly written.  Take that photo of Bob Dylan that Hank gives Adam to hang in the Luncheonette.  The magic rule of three applies to the photo.  The first time, Hank uses it as an excuse to get Dr. Pelican’s number from Adam.  The second time the picture appears, Adam brings it to Hank’s studio for framing as an excuse to invite Hank to a poker game.  The third time, Hank criticizes (in his very Hank way) the placement of the photo in the studio.  Holy cow, did Katims just use this photograph as a symbol for the burgeoning friendship between these two?  Because that’s incredible.***

***Also, a trash-talking, sunglasses-sporting Hank playing poker, calling Joel a donkey on behalf of viewers across America?  I could watch that for hours.  Seriously.  Where’s the raw footage?

You see, Hank’s convinced he has Aspberger’s syndrome after reading that book about Max.  Ray Romano’s performance blew me away, particularly in the consultation scene with Dr. Pelican.  The combination of Hank’s reticence and certainty comes across with each mumbled word, each dart of the eyes.  Emmy voters, please take note.

But, for me, the entirety of Hank’s arc came down to the word “tenacious.”  He uses it twice in this episode: once with Dr. Pelican to describe how his wife described him and then again with Adam to apologize for his behavior during poker (fun fact: Hank dislikes wild cards).  Doesn’t this seem like an acceptance of a kind, an embracing of who he is?  If he’s accepted this label of tenacious, what’s to stop him from accepting a psuedo-“jump ball” diagnosis of Aspberger’s.  Brilliant writing.

Also, could these two #Besties spend a great deal more time together?  Perhaps join an intramural league of tetherball competitors?  Yes.  I’m sticking with that.  Adam and Hank: tetherball partners.

Amber & Seth

If there’s one thing I learned from college, it’s that binging on a steady musical diet of Joy Division ensures you’re going down a bumpy road.  So, when we first see Amber cleaning her apartment to the wails of Joy Division’s “Isolation,” call me crazy, but I had a sense that Amber was about to embark on a trying emotional journey.

Soon, Amber’s calling out sick and heading on an impromptu road trip.  She pulls over a time or two to stare vacantly out into the abyss, which told me that perhaps she hadn’t entirely gotten over Ryan proposing to and then dumping her?  Go figure.

Before long, Amber’s pulled over in the parking lot of a bar, drinking and smoking and leering out the window at some dude dressed in an apron.  Holy cow, it’s Papa Seth!  When we cut back to Amber, she’s sitting at the bar and on the receiving end of some rather ham-fisted seduction by a delightful gentleman named Jason.****

****Jason, evidently, owns a few shares in the local neighborhood dive Donnie’s around the corner.  Also, he really pushes the mechanical bull, which I thought hurt his prospects with Amber (in addition to his gross demeanor and attitude).  I mean, slow down there Jason!  Save some mystery for the date!

One drink in Jason’s face later, Seth emerges from the back, Amber storms off, and Seth follows her to the parking lot to wrestle the keys out of his daughter’s hands.  I’d like to point out that Mae Whitman is a brilliant actress and is perhaps the best “crier” in the biz.  When she breaks down, blaming her break-up with Ryan on him because she’s afraid she’s just like him, that’s about as compelling a scene as you’re likely to find on television.  A stunner.

John Corbett has never been my favorite actor in the world, but he is fantastic as Seth, and I hope he sticks around to rebuild his relationships with his kids, as he hints to Sarah on the phone in yet another excellent scene.  Hey, he’s off to a good fatherly start: pancakes.  Well played, sir.

Elsewhere, the relationship between Drew and Amy intensifies after she reveals experiencing a (possibly suicidal?) sadness at Tufts following the abortion, Joel moves out after the most aggressively passive aggressive breakfast donut delivery in television history, and Julia seeks advice from Sarah.

While the Julia/Joel plotline continues to frustrate, everything else surrounding it is so good, my goldfish memory will permit the misstep in what is an exceptional season of television so far.

Conversation Around the Dinner Table

– Kristina [on Hank]: “Are we hoping he has Aspberger’s?”

– Hank: “I want to know if there’s a reason I’m blowing it with the people I care most about.  You know?”

– Seth: “Listen, I know my track record isn’t exactly stellar.  I don’t deserve this opportunity, but I’d like to try.”

Sarah: “Try what?”

Seth: “Being her dad.”

Community S05E04: “Cooperative Polygraphy”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “having the heart of a hero.” 

Dan Harmon, you scoundrel you!  In another ridiculously strong entry in the Community cannon, Harmon proves that all a show needs is strong writing and compelling characters we care about.  We love the gimmick episodes that seem to come from left field (like last week’s lampooning) and mine unexpected comic territory, but here–in what amounts to a bottle episode–we have more than the trademark hilarity; Harmon doesn’t really truly reveal what this episode is about until the final third. In a twist that blindsided me, the episode’s true intention is to land an emotional sucker-punch to the gut, though not in the way  you might expect.

Last week, I lamented the way the episode seemed to shoehorn in the revelation of Pierce’s death.  I can accept the reality that its inclusion in last week’s episode was likely the result of the shortened episode order and resulting narrative crunch.  But this week, we pick up with the group entering the study room dressed in wizard-like garb that seems like the cast-off costumes from a botched Devo music video.  Evidently, Pierce died as he lived: embroiled in the Laser Lotus cult.  As they decompress over the bizarre funeral service (lots of beeping and persuasive literature), a team of investigators descends upon our mourners, led by Mr. Stone (a phenomenal Walton Goggins, playing this part as straight as an arrow).

This might surprise you, but Pierce remains as kooky in death as in life.  You see, Pierce left instructions with Mr. Stone that, upon his death and regardless of its cause, he was to lead an inquest into his possible murder by the hands of at least one member of the study group.  The catch?  Those who pass all stages of the lie detector test are subject to a considerable bequeathment.

Let the bottle episode begin!

Every family or group of friends has an instigator, the one to stir up trouble.  For the study group, that person was Pierce.  And faster than you can see the color blurple, Mr. Stone (acting as Mr. Hawthorne’s proxy) sends the group into a tailspin.  Hooked up to lie detectors, it’s all “You don’t plan to include us in your Zombie Apocalypse emergency plan?” this and “You’ve been using my Netflix account this whole time!” that.**  Before long, Shirley confesses to tampering with Britta’s beloved “Helen of Soy” sandwich, Annie admits to drugging her friends with a teensy weensy bit of methamphetamine during an arduous study session, Chang unburdens himself and confesses to using his body like a one-man jungle-gym all over Greendale, and—most egregiously—Troy and Abed’s secret handshake is revealed as a copycat.

**For the record, I’m totally with Jeff on this one.  The Grey is a great movie! 

This section of the episode had one belly-laugh after another and would have been satisfying if the entire story revolved around these guys gathered around the study room table, one-upping each other with their deceit.  But no, this episode had a trick up its Level 5 Laser Lotus cloak.

Speaking through Stone, the ghost of Pierce Hawthorne gets to the emotional core of this episode when he begins passing off his possessions to his friends.  Sure, that meant a round of sperm-filled canisters, but it also meant some other symbolic tokens.  Britta’s passion inspired Pierce, so he bequeathed an iPod Nano to encourage her to take life a little less seriously; Shirley’s strength of character and business acumen intimidated Pierce, so he gives her his Florida time share to allow her time for herself and her family…***

***I started to see what was happening  around this moment in the episode, and suddenly it all hit me.  This whole set up, Pierce’s death, it was all leading to….There was a reason why Troy was at that end of the table…I couldn’t get a grasp on my thoughts because of Dan Harmon, you devious such-and-such.  This entire time, we were being set up to initiate Troy’s departure from the study group.

…Annie was always Pierce’s favorite, so she receives a tiara that reminded him of her, Jeff gets some Scotch so he wouldn’t have to drink from the other canister (aww, that’s so Pierce), Abed remained an enigma to Pierce, so he just receives a receptacle full of Pierce’s genetic fluid, and then it comes to Troy.

Pierce really had a soft-spot for his once-upon-a-time roomie (who doesn’t?), so it comes as no surprise that the lion’s share goes to Mr. Barnes.  In addition to now owning 14.3 million dollars in Hawthorne Wipes, Troy has an obligation: to have the life that Pierce, in his youth, threw away.  Troy’s financial dreams can come true only if he agrees to sail around the world, an opportunity Pierce’s father insisted upon but Pierce blew off.  Of course, Troy accepts, shocking the group and even leaving Jeff Winger speechless.

I’m not ready to say goodbye,**** but this is such a great way to write off this beloved character.  Troy, the perpetual collegiate child, needs to grow up; that Pierce is, in his death, a catalyst for this inevitable change just feels perfect.  And when Community nails this blend of comedy with its earnestness of character, it is not just the best comedy on television, it’s one of the best shows on television, period.

****Troy and Abed are in mooooooooourning indeed… 

But Harmon uses the final minute of this episode for the true coup de grace.  The stunned study group looks to one another for comfort, for understanding, for something.  None exists right now; like a family, sometimes we have to say goodbye before we want to.  Throughout the episode, Stone’s team would intervene when one of our merry band lied.  So breaking the silence, Abed says, of Troy’s impending exit, recycling a tried-and-true catchphrase: “Cool.  Cool cool cool.”  And, from the background, one of the investigators chirps up: “That’s a lie.”

Mic drop.

Well done, Mr. Harmon.  This was one of Community’s finest outings to date.  Although I will miss Donald Glover’s Troy, I cannot wait to see how this show will outdo itself because it’s been doing just that since Season 5 began.

Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Abed [on catfishing Annie]: “I did what I did in the name of breakfast.”

– Britta: “You exploited me and had me believing in a slightly more magical world!”

– Troy: “I’ve never been to Legoland.  I just wanted you guys to think I was cool.”

– Britta: “If I wanted the government in my uterus, I’d fill it with oil and Hispanic voters!”

Downton Abbey S04E04: “Episode 4”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of not “spending too much time on a one-sided love.”

Can we just put aside our differences for a second and come together on an important issue?  These days, there are all manors manners of drama filling the halls of the Downton estate, but emerging from the rubble is an MVP on whom we can all agree, can’t we?  I’m talking, of course, about Mrs. Hughes.

This episode picks up the morning after the events of last week’s installment; we find Anna feverishly polishing shoes at the table alone, a nice metaphor that speaks to her inability to scrub the lingering feelings of shame and dirtiness from herself.  Clearly, our girl Anna is not doing well.  Things don’t improve much during breakfast with the downstairs staff; Mrs. Hughes, the only person who knows of the attack, needs to smooth out the palpable tension in the room that arises after Anna inadequately tries to explain away her bruises.

The fact that the Gillinghams are still on the grounds is also a source of nerve-wracking fear for Anna.  Upstairs, the Crawleys wish the Gillinghams a fond farewell but not before Lord Gillingham confesses to Mary that his servant creeps him out (oh sweet irony).**

**But not all is lost: Gregson gets a handshake from his future pops-in-law and is all like, “I’m never going to wash this puppy again.” 

I like the contrast that develops between Anna and Bates, whose relationship a rift has separated (what with her not wanting to be touched and not wanting her husband to rot in jail once he inevitably kills her attacker), and Mary and Gillingham, whose relationship has grown closer.  Still, I’m not loving how Fellowes is handling Anna after her attack; it feels pat and predictable.  Anna moving upstairs to put distance between herself and Bates?  We spent several seasons wanting these two together, and I’m not a fan of using this traumatic event just as a way to test their relationship.  (Though I would love to live in a world where Robert, already attuned to Anna’s change in behavior, finds out first.)

Listen up now, I have some great news for you stalkers out there!  It seems like, as long as you have more money than you know what to do with, following someone home and inviting yourself into that person’s home unannounced is actually adorable?  I mean, that’s my takeaway from this episode because that’s exactly what Lord Gillingham did after Mary and co returned to Downton following their field trip to London to sort out the tax issue.  Also, it’s absolutely not creepy to propose marriage to someone you met a week ago and confess your unadulterated love***.  Thanks, Gillingham!  You’ve given all the creepers of the world a bright shining star of hope!  Boundaries are for the weak-willed!

***Mary, to her credit, was all like, “Um, no thanks tbh.  You’re a handsome pirate and all, but this is one booty you ain’t a-plunderin.”  That’s right, girl!  You tell him!

I guess its time for me to talk about Edna (ugh).  Here I go again, unable to prevent myself from stirring up a whirlwind of controversy, but I have to say it: I found her behavior less than desirable in this episode.  Is it just me or does it seem like she took advantage of a drunk Branson at the end of last episode in a creepy form a date rape?****

****Dear Julian Fellowes:      

            While I totally heart your television series 4evs, please refrain from using rape as a plot device.  It is not okay.  If you ever struggle in brainstorming ideas for a new plot, just put Moseley into a new situation.  For example, Moseley gets locked in a zoo after hours.  That would be hilarious!  Or perhaps Moseley finds a treasure map in Mrs. Patmore’s sugar bowl (not a euphemism) and goes on a zany adventure with a pet ferret!  Let your creativity run wild! But please stop revealing these dark corners of your soul to us because, frankly, I’m getting worried about you.

            All the best (with hugs and kisses),

            Overstuffed DVR

Later on, Edna just sort of casually drops a question into her conversation with Branson: would he marry her if she were pregnant?  Much to Edna’s surprise, Branson isn’t thrilled by this.  What’s more, Mary senses something is off with him on their trip to London and encourages him to find a confessor to spill the beans.  And when you’re a Downton-dweller, who you gonna call?

MRS. HUGHES! *Cue jingle similar to but not a replica of the Ghostbusters theme in order to avoid copyright issues.*

After having listened to this icky tale, Mrs. Hughes summons Edna to her office, calls her a lying hussy (my words, not hers), and disproves the pregnancy threat—all with Branson in attendance.  Mrs. Hughes then invites Edna to collect her belongings and leave Downton, praying that she not let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya. Hey, even Thomas got to take a parting pot shot at Edna before she leaves, calling her a witch (he let her off a bit light imo).

Elsewhere, love in its myriad forms: Rose crushes on a black jazz bandleader, Jimmy and Ivy get frisky in the boot room, Mrs. Hughes gives Carson a token to remember Alice by, Alfred wants to pursue his cooking dream while also putting Ivy in his rearview, Edith cashes in her V-card, Aunt Rosamund calls Edith a scandalous trollop, and we’re all shipping Isobel and Clarkson SO HARD. #Adorbs

Putting aside my feelings on Anna’s attack, this proved another solid installment of Downton, hinting at the possibility of a brighter future for Mary (Isobel greeting Gillingham and saying she hopes to see a great deal more of him is one of those character details this show gets right time and time again—great stuff).  Plus, Edna is now wandering the streets, hopefully never to return because she is the worst.

Until next weekend, Downtonites!


Snippets of Intrigue

– Violet Crawley [to Isobel]: “I don’t criticize her or you.  But I do hope you’ll find a way to make friends with the world again.”

– Jimmy: “I do have dreams.  They don’t involve peeling potatoes.”

– Mary: “Seriously, Papa, Edith’s as mysterious as a bucket.”

– Carson: “The business of life is the acquisition of memories.”

– Mrs. Hughes [to Carson]: “It’ll reassure the staff to know you once belonged to the human race.”

Top Chef S11E14: “Po’ Boy Smackdown”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “tilting our bowls to get the broth out.”

We open up our latest Top Chef installment in the devastating aftermath of #ImmunityGate.  With back-to-back scandals under his belt, Nick seemed to feel the weight of both, shielding his face from the red-hot glares of his competitors.  Meanwhile, Shirley collapsed into hysterics; my keen insight into the human condition told me she might not have been taking Stephanie’s ousting so well.

But this is Top Chef.  Emotions are for prep cooks.  Suck it up, Shirls!

For the Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here), food truck mogul Roy Choy was on hand to dispense his brand of culinary wisdom.  The chefs continued to comment on how daring and innovative the man is, which made sense to me personally because I found his shirt incredibly rebellious.  He tasked them with creating Po’ Boys because duh.

Shirley, having wiped the tears from her eyes, said she never made a sandwich before** but dove in, proving herself a lethal quick study when she realized all she needed was bread and something in it. I could tell Nick wanted to get back on my good side because he didn’t make anything with cornsilk, so that’s an improvement?

**Um, what?

Ultimately, reviewing what the chefs made is irrelevant.  Chef Roy Choy knows his way around a Po’ Boy and kept it real—like really real—when he told the chefs that basically they should all give up cooking and just get it over with and donate their organs to science already.  But seriously, he hated all of their Po’ Boys so much!  He then provided incredibly helpful advice to the chefs if they’d all been high as a kite, suggesting they get down to wok talk, find their souls, and go dancing.  I’m not really sure what he was talking about, but I think he had a point in there?  Then Padma threw in her two cents and told the chefs their fillings were good, which I thought was some suggestive language for prime time television.  She then pointed out that they forgot that their fillings needed to rest in two bread pillows, which I think—frankly—sounds like the most amazing way to sleep ever.

Still, someone had to win because Top Chef is like a middle school spelling bee, so Shirley won, but Chef Choy did not seem happy dispensing that quasi-good news because the victory came with an immunity prize.

Chef Roy Choy swapped places with Jon Favreau, who read the room like the champ he is and cracked a joke about their Elimination Challenge involving dumpster-diving in the French Quarter for their ingredients.  What a jokester!  Actually, their Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here) took its inspiration from Favreau’s latest movie project about a guy who takes a food truck around the country, bonds with his son, and finds his culinary voice.  Using this as a launchpad, the chefs had to recreate a meal that encapsulated a turning point in their career and the development of their culinary voice.

But first, the chefs had a night on the town with Emeril, Gail, Padma, and Jon.  The chefs felt like standing in the middle of a congregation of food trucks was the perfect time to open up about themselves.  Brian took an express train to The Overshare Forrest and regaled us with a little anecdote about a rock-bottom DUI; Shirley made all the judges feel great about themselves and said that the shrimp boat challenge was her personal turning point.  Victory sealed.  Shirls, you a stone-cold killer, girl!

After spending the night throwing darts at a picture of Roy Choy’s face, the chefs prepared for service at Café Reconcile, which sounds like the coolest charity (and spearheaded by Emeril, as if I needed another reason to love him), taking at risk kids and providing them with training and opportunities in the food service industry.

But while the diners felt the warm-and-fuzzies, the kitchen was a madhouse.  Nick immediately set the tone with his Nicholas Cage-esque meltdown over the specificity of his pot placement, threatening to break the face of anyone who dared move his pots; this made me suspicious that Nick might have been having a scandalous relationship with one or possibly all three of his pots.  Wow, he was possessive about those pots!

It seemed, then, like all the hard work Nick put into revitalizing his image came crashing down at his announcement that he meant to make five preparations of carrots.  I want to smack him in the face with a carrot.  And let’s not even talk about that blackened quinoa because I never want to talk about blackened quinoa again.

In the end, Shirley’s succulent dish (snapper in a crustacean broth) earned her a win after it made Gail drool all over herself, proving to Nick that that’s what a real chef with immunity cooks like.  Also, it let Top Chef pat itself on the back, so smart play, Shirls!***  Brian served dressed up skinless chicken breast and undercooked potatoes, and Nick’s carrot fourteen hundred ways plate was no huge hit (they really missed the blackened quinoa).

***For my money, Carlos’s pork belly looked mouth-wateringly good, and—had it been socially acceptable—I’m pretty sure Tom would have ordered a second round of Nina’s amazing fettuccine and calamari dish and stuck it right down his pants.  Boy was all about Nina’s food!

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), Padma talked about how hard Emeril’s potatoes were, and the second time she really pushed her luck with the censors this episode.  And I think Tom wanted more carrot from Nick; I found this odd since his dish contained carrot powder, which—typing this—makes me want to hit Nick in the face with a carrot again.

In the end, Brian packed his knives and left, proving Nick really is the hemorrhoid on the buttocks of this show.  UGH!  Send him home!