Top 10 Films of 2013

Film Projector Lens

Culling a list of the year’s best films has proven consistently difficult because, until now, I never paused to reflect on what, for me, makes a movie a true “best of” contender.  Was it pure entertainment value?  Unimpeachably quality craftsmanship?   A combination of the two?  Lists such as these can’t help but be arbitrary because each critic–whether amateur or professional–has a different take on what qualities contribute to a film’s top ten status.

It certainly didn’t help that I had an absolute overabundance of films from which to choose.  Seriously, what an incredible year!  At first, in the face of so many possibilities, the task daunted me.  How could I select the best of all these films?  Finally, I settled on a definitive criterion, a simple measurement that encapsulates what elevates any true work of art: the film had to leave a lasting impression on me and refuse to allow me to shake it.

You won’t agree with all of my choices, and I could have tinkered with this list until next year’s Oscars.  So many greats didn’t make the final cut. Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street is one helluva wild ride, and I loved every drop of excess; it didn’t land in my top ten.  Dallas Buyers Club featured two of the best performances in contemporary cinema; you won’t find it on my list.  Saving Mr. Banks engaged me and moved me profoundly; its critical derision is unwarranted, and I will defend it for years to come, but it didn’t linger with me quite as vividly as others did.  Those are just three examples of outstanding films narrowly ousted by their competitors.  In any other year, I would have been proud to include them on my list.

So, here are the movies that moved me, that challenged me, that humored me, that haunted me.  These are the films I couldn’t shake: the best of 2013.

10) (tie) The Way, Way Back AND The Spectacular Now

Two quintessential coming of age stories.  I couldn’t pick between them, and you can’t make me.  Allison Janey and Sam Rockwell did career-defining work in Way, Way Back while Miles Teller’s performance in Spectacular Now proved career-making.   Any of these three would have been delightful, bold Oscar picks.  (But bold Oscar is a bit of an oxymoron these days, no?) But even more than the performances, both are beautiful paeans to the messy, awkward, and wistful days of burgeoning adulthood.

9) Philomena

Trust me, no one is more surprised than I am that Stephen Frears’ little British indie found its way into my top ten, but I just can’t let go of this movie.  Steve Coogan’s script, buoyed by a dynamite turn from himself and a mesmerizing one by Judi Dench, is funny and emotionally resonant in equal doses.  Philomena’s story is an indictment of a corrupt system, but it’s so much more than that: it’s a tale of friendship, of motherhood, of redemption.  Also, Judi Dench waxes poetic about her lady bits, an odd theme in my top ten come to think of it (more on that later).  Sometimes, movies come out of left field and sneak up on us if we let them.  For me, that’s Philomena.

8) Fruitvale Station

First-time feature film director Ryan Coogler turned what could have been little more than a token cinematic tribute to the life and death of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old killed by a police officer on a subway platform, into a positively galvanizing social commentary.  Michael B. Jordan is brilliant, refusing to turn Grant into a martyr or make him a symbol for any cause.  By exposing his foibles, Jordan shows us the tragedy of the man, making for a more intimate and powerful story.  This movie pinned me to my seat when I saw it this summer, and it hasn’t left my mind since.

7) Captain Phillips

Paul Greengrass’s frenetic direction and iconic you-are-there steady cam manage to create a palpably tense thriller based, of course, on the well-known real life experience of a boat highjacked by Somali pirates.  Despite the inevitability of its outcome, the film remains gripping throughout.  But what makes Captain Phillips so memorable is its final fifteen minutes when Tom Hanks allows us to see the emotional toll the titular captain’s heroism takes on himself.  I can’t remember a film that dismantled the mythos of the everyman hero with such pointed precision.  I’ll never forget it.

6) Her

Leave it to Spike Jonze to take our societal love affair with technology and turn it into one of the most heartfelt romances I’ve seen in a long time.  Joaquin Pheonix does great work as usual, but the depth of feeling Jonze’s script manages to mine is what truly impresses.  Scarlett Johannson uses her breathy articulation to perfection and imbues Samantha, the female operating system for which Theodore falls, with true pathos.  That the film manages to balance wry comedy with powerful contemplations on the very meaning of connection and love is what will linger with you long after the credits roll.

5) Gravity

This is the white-knuckle thrill ride of the year, a film that feels so relentlessly claustrophobic in the face of the infinite.  Sandra Bullock carries the bulk of it on her own, delivering an absolutely balletic performance both physically and emotionally.  While you can enjoy this simply as a film about being adrift in space, the subtext that emerges (about the price of redemption, the burden of humanity, and the possibility of rebirth) only enriches the experience.  The mostly-silent action sequences have a beautiful choreography, and the use of mind-boggling visual effects feels so authentic, you’ll swear Cuaron shot the damn thing in space.  As for that sequence of Bullock spinning off into oblivion (as the camera catches it from her dizzying perspective)?  Absolutely chilling.  The entire enterprise is a stunner.

4) Frances Ha

Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white indie about twentysomething angst and listlessness is the exact product Lena Dunham has been unsuccessfully trying to make for three years with her HBO series Girls.  Greta Gerwig lends her pen to the script (along with Baumbach), but it’s her enchanting performance as Frances that reveals a seeming bottomless reservoir of charm.  We walk away from this movie thinking we’re a little bit like Frances, but the truth is much more disappointing: so few of us have the courage to be her. Like Philomena, giving yourself over to Baumbach’s film will reward you in unexpected ways.  If you’re open to it, you’ll find yourself in the company of the first film about millennials that neither judges nor criticizes.  I suppose it doesn’t hurt that the humor, free of Baumbach’s characteristic derision, will make you howl with laughter.  For me, this is the surprise film of the year.

3) 12 Years a Slave

Put simply, 12 Years a Slave does for slavery in cinema what Schindler’s List did for the Holocaust.  As you might expect from director Steve McQueen, the film doesn’t flinch from depicting the brutality Solomon Northup (and, by extension, all slaves) endured.  Breakout star Lupito Nyong’o stuns as Patsey, while Chiwetel Ejiofor manages to emote each blow to his dignity, each snuffed out spark of hope, each note of bitter resolve.  I’ve never been so deeply moved or so haunted by a performance.  Need evidence?  Northup joining his fellow slaves in a spiritual, as the camera holds on Ejiofor’s face for several minutes, absolutely floored me.  It’s hands-down my favorite five minute sequence I saw all year.  Because that’s what makes this film so unshakeable: even subjected to acts of unthinkable cruelty, Northup clings desperately to hope and faith.  Let’s put it this way: I sat, silently stunned, through the credits, unable to stand up.  That’s powerful cinema.

2) Nebraska

Never before has a film spoken so poetically and truthfully on the relationship between father and son.  The film’s setting feels perfect, with its wide-open and windswept prairies serving as the metaphor for the vast gulf that separates Bruce Dern’s Woody Grant from his son, Will Forte’s David.  At its core, this movie is nothing more than a road-trip, but Alexander Payne turns Woody’s journey to Nebraska to claim a sweepstakes award into a visual poem.  I couldn’t imagine watching this film in color; its muted black-and-white tone beautifully echoes the suppressed family dynamics and secrets, the tamped-down emotions, the reluctance to accept the inevitability of Woody’s age and impending death.  It’s sweet and funny and thoughtful and moving.  Oh, and June Squib (who, like Judi Dench, comments on her own female parts to hilarious effect) as Grant matriarch Kate proves that old women cursing and calling dead relatives sluts will never not be funny.  Can we please give her the Oscar on Sunday?  Please?

1) Inside Llewyn Davis

While I’m not quite over the Academy’s summary dismissal of the Coen brothers’ latest, I can concede that this film might not be for everyone.  But, as it reigns supreme on my list, it clearly speaks to me; I’d go so far as to label it the most fascinating and original film ever to tackle the grieving process.  Oscar Isaac is magnificent as the titular Llewyn Davis, a singer navigating the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early sixties after the suicide of his music partner.  Llewyn is trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and cynicism (implied through the film’s perfectly rendered circular ending) as a direct result of his inability to come to terms with the death.  He is his own worst enemy, a man with an amazing voice and incredible talent unable to capitalize on either.  It’s a brilliant character brilliantly rendered and brilliantly portrayed.  And that’s to say nothing of the fantastic soundtrack (with which I am currently obsessed), the hilarious Coen-esque black comedy, or John Goodman as a heroin-obsessed jazz singer.  This is a film that I know will unfurl itself more with each subsequent viewing; I cannot wait to rewatch it, to dissect it, to lose myself in its myriad layers.  Very seldom does a film come along that so effortlessly blends pure entertainment with thought-provoking themes and intentional obtuseness, but this one does.  We’re not just talking unequivocal Best Picture of the Year for me; we’re talking one of my favorite films of all time.

Honorable MentionsWolf of Wall Street, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, Dallas Buyers Club, Prisoners, The Act of Killing, Monsters University, Don Jon, Blackfish, This is the End, The World’s End, The Conjuring, Evil Dead, Spring Breakers, Side Effects

Downton Abbey S04E09: “2013 Christmas Special”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “spending the evening trapped in the cast of a whodunit.”

I’ll admit it: going into tonight’s season (or series for those who prefer the British parlance) finale, expectations ran high.  Paul Giamatti, perhaps my all-time favorite actor, would play Harold Levinson! We would finally put to bed this ludicrous idea of Bates as a killer!  We would never hear another mention of pig farming again!  Yet, the finale took some strange detours, resulting in a Christmas special narrative that felt sloppy, bloated, and stagnant.  What I’m trying to say is that I’m glad I didn’t actually watch this episode at Christmas, or I might have tracked down Julian Fellowes and chucked a piece of coal at his head.  Jingle this all the way!

Downton is certainly no stranger to the time jump, and that is exactly what we found ourselves treated to last night.  The majority of the action takes place in or around Grantham House (the Crawley’s London-based homestead) in 1923 as both the upstairs and downstairs prepare for Lady Rose’s presentation to high society.  This functioned as a fine narrative framing device, though I found myself far less enthused with the subplots crowded beneath its umbrella.

The best part about Rose’s presentation plotline was that Mrs. Hughes had the opportunity to say the word buffet several times.  Seriously, when she demanded Daisy help set up a delicious boo-fay, I think I fell in love.  We’re not talking Patmore levels of infatuation, but if Mrs. Hughes keeps up that dirty talk, I might need to take a walk around her boo-fay if you catch my drift.  I guess this plot also meant the reappearance of Cora’s mother Martha (Shirley MacLaine, who you may have heard of) and the introduction of her brother Harold (Paul Giamatti, fitting right in because he is amazing) fresh off the Teapot Dome Scandal, which made me lol each time it received a mention because silly name much?  Harold’s a surly curmudgeon when the episode beings, scoffing at all things British and treating family and acquaintance alike with the utmost disdain.  In other words, he’s a gem.  I dug it.  It’s just a shame that Fellowes wrangled such a powerhouse actor and tossed him into a completely underwhelming story involving an awkward multi-generational courtship ritual.  I’d detail the nuances of that arc for you, but I didn’t like it then, and I don’t want to relive it.  Sorry, but it’s true.  What a waste of Giamatti’s talent and a real snoozer storywise.  Pass.**

**Fortunately, Giamatti had one of the two best scenes of the night: befuddling the Prince of Wales after introducing himself.  Harold laughing off the Prince’s confounding rebuke just played perfectly.

Speaking of the Prince of Wales, dude’s a straight up horn dog!  Apparently, he’s been having something of a dalliance with Rose’s friend Dudley Ward.  Two things about Dudley: madam, your name is atrocious and conjures the image of a frumpy, middle aged man working in IT.  Also, WHO ARE YOU?  Downton really wants us to care about this little temptress, though for the life of me, I couldn’t.  But wait!  Evidently, the Prince of Wales has been sending some pretty risqué copies of his erotic Harry Potter fanfiction to Dudley or something because when Samson (the annoying card sharp from earlier in the season) filches a letter he sent to Dudley in confidence, the Crawleys find themselves in the centre (#BritishSpelling) of an impending national crisis because obvs.  Samson might sell that letter to the highest bidder and cast a pall over the crown!  *Collective gasp interrupted by Moseley dropping something.  Classic Moseley!*

Fear not, stalwart monarchists!  For faster than you can say “strangest discarded plot for Ocean’s Fourteen ever,” Robert concocts a plan.  He will host a poker game, using his brother-in-law’s notable coffers to bait Samson, who cannot–bless his scheming little heart–resist the opportunity to fleece someone.  But Robert’s going to need a little help from his friends.  Bates will put his prison skills to the test, putting a temporary stop to his burgeoning toilet wine business long enough to forge a copy of the Prince’s letter.  The e’re reliable #Gillinghammer will join the game, along with Branson and Harold, while Mary, Rose, and #BlaketheSnake will break into Samson’s room and snatch the hidden letter, even if that means rifling through his sock drawer.  OH THE HUMANITY!***

***A Danny Ocean Robert Crawley is not, so despite the best laid plans, they cannot find the letter.  Worst letter heist in history!

Fortunately for the Crawleys, Mr. Bates was up to his elbows in coats this episode.  For real, #CoatGate.  When he wasn’t unwittingly donating his overcoat to Russian orphans before emptying his pockets of potentially incriminating evidence of a murder, he pulled a fast one, removing the letter from Samson’s coat pocket and handing it off to Robert.  Thank goodness for those Crawleys; otherwise England would literally flounder in ruins.  And yes, please read that last sentence as Chris Traegger would say it.

While we’re on the topic of Bates, wtf?  I mean Downton really went out of its way to paint Bates as, what, a serial killer in the making?  Bizarre lighting and shadows seemed to frame him when he appeared on screen as he leered at the camera and lied about the train ticket.  And dear God that beach hat was chilling.  Seriously what’s going on here? Enough already.  Though Mary’s decision to burn the ticket seems to put the plot to rest for now, I hate the way Fellowes left it open as if it doesn’t matter whether he killed or not because Greene totes deserved it.  Of course he did, but what a cheap ploy and a complete disregard of this character.  Bates deserves so much better than this.

You know who else deserves better?  #SadEdith.  With the time jump, she’s returned from her sabbatical abroad, a few pounds lighter around the waist but significantly weighted around the heart.  Since leaving her baby daughter with the Schroeder family in Switzerland, Edith has been unable to come to terms with the decision.  Because it sounds like Gregson found himself in a kerfuffle with some hateful dudes in brown shirts*** before disappearing, it seems like he’s dead now, and Edith feels that, should she inherit from Gregson, she should pass on some of that to their daughter.  What’s a gal to do?

****Um, so those were Nazis that beat Gregson down, right?  Just to be clear, Gregson went straight up fisticuffs with Nazis, leading to his likely death.  BEST. CHARACTER. DEATH. EVER.  Certified bad ass. 

After shutting down Aunt Rosamund’s Negative Nelly ‘tude by calling into question her childless existence, Edith decided to track down Mr. Drew, world-renowned pig farmer, and ask him and his wife to raise her daughter as their own.  What a sad state of affairs when this resolution felt like a win for #SadEdith!  Girl, take the break in between seasons, hit up the spa, just make it all about you because, hell, no one in the Downton writers room is, that’s fo’ sho’.

I’m sorry; I’ve held back long enough into the recap now, but I can no longer contain my excitement because #MoseleyWatch.  His bond with Baxter has been a highlight of the back-half of this season, and I loved watching Moseley emerge as a pillar of inspiration for her, encouraging his lady friend to stand up to uber-bully Thomas.  Also, Moseley played soccer on the beach in this episode, and as I watched, the world seemed like a brighter, more vibrant version of itself.  Thanks, Moseley.  You single-handedly kept this season from completely flying off the rails.*****

*****Best scene of the night: Harold Levinson flops down on a chair in the sitting room and asks Moseley for a cup of tea with milk in it.  The dawning horror on Moseley’s face made it clear that milk in tea trumps the myriad agonies of wearing a footman’s gloves any day of the week.  Hilarious.

I’d like to close this review with a look at #TheBickersons: Isobel and Violet Crawley.  I could watch these two exchanging witty barbs to one another for this rest of my life; without fail, this is just one thing the show just does right time and time again.  In fact, Fellowes gained a great amount of mileage out of pairing Isobel off with characters, most notably Violet and Branson (though can we agree his whiney “I don’t belong here” shtick has grown INCREDIBLY tiresome and needs discarding?).  More of this next year, please!

Elswhere, #Gillinghammer and #BlaketheSnake gear up to vie for Mary’s affections, Daisy finds herself rejuvenated when an American valet openly fancies her, Ivy takes a job with Harold and leaves for America (who cares?), and Carson struggles to pick a day trip location for the downstairs staff before settling on a trip to the beach.******

******The scene of Hughes and Carson holding hands in the ocean, while its subtext felt about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, ended the season on such a wistful, sweet, and pleasant note.  Finally addressing the bond these two share feels so right.

In the end, I didn’t feel as if the Christmas Special accomplished all that much narratively speaking.  It did its best to show us that high drama lurked around every corridor (the swelling score when Samson realizes his letter gone had me laughing out loud at its overwrought usage), but this episode didn’t change a great deal.  In that way, it felt more like Robert than Mary, content with familiar beats and traditions rather than an exploration of new terrain.  Four years in, we expect more from a show than for it to settle into its well-worn narrative grooves.  I’m not saying I’m giving up on this show (bestill my heart, I would never), but too many of the goings-on this year felt recycled from earlier, more compelling installments of this high society soap.  Without reservation, I consider this Downton‘s weakest season, though–like Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes strolling toward the sunset–I’m hopeful for a brighter future.

Until next time, Downtonites!  Thanks so much for reading!


Snippets of Intrigue

– Mary: “Your niece is a flapper.  Accept it.”

– Carson: “You’re a footman, not a traveling salesman!  Please keep your opinions on the catering to yourself.”

– Edith: “Sometimes, I think we should make more scenes about the things that matter to us.”

– Isobel: “Fear not.  I’ve never traveled with a maid.  You can share my knowledge of the jungle.”

– Carson: “I’m afraid that boy’s interest in her may not be entirely proper.”

Patmore: “Mr. Carson, all women need someone to show them a bit of interest every now and then.  Preferably in a manner that’s not entirely proper.” #PatmoreWisdom #Patmore4Life

– Harold: “I would find it hard to respect any woman who wanted to marry me.”

– Dowager: “Oh no, I don’t think so.  I’m too tired for an evening of secondhand emotion.”

– Dowager: “How curious these phrases are!”

– Hughes: “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady.”

Carson: “I don’t know how, but you managed to make that sound a little risqué.”

Hughes: “And if I did?  We’re getting on, Mr. Carson, you and I.  We can afford to live a little.”

Justified S05E05: “Shot All to Hell”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “loving the smell of your own farts.”

You know how some episode titles are intentionally vague or obtusely metaphorical, leaving us to scratch our heads over possible meanings?  Well, that’s certainly not the case for Justified‘s fifth episode, which delivered exactly what it promised.  So many people died in this episode!  And I don’t mean peacefully in their sleep!  (I definitely mean they subsisted on a steady diet of lead for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)

It all begins with Lee Paxton receiving a rather unpleasant phone call in the middle of the night: those bodies Carl showed Boyd last week suddenly appeared in one of Paxton’s many funeral homes.  An anonymous tip pointed the coppers to Paxton’s business, and lo and behold, the corpses show evidence of foul play.  Now, I’m no crime scene investigator (I leave that, like so many things in my life, to Ted Danson), but maybe the innumerable bullet holes were that evidence?  Anyhow, Paxton puts the pieces together, hangs up angrily, snaps on his bedroom light, and sitting there is Boyd Crowder, having enacted the most silent home invasion in history.  To be honest, I found that quite polite of Boyd.  Guy’s a real class-act all around.  I mean, he even provides Paxton a step-by-step tutorial on the best method for self-inflicting a gunshot wound, though Paxton didn’t seem terribly interested in the particulars.  Boyd just goes that extra mile is my point, giving his illicit activities something of a human touch.  Oh, RIP Lee Paxton.  You were the worst.

Although the episode opens with such startling bloodshed, it would not end there.  Oh no, ladies and gentlemen; Justified‘s swath of carnage would continue unabated.  In an effort to tie up all Paxton-related loose ends, Boyd sets his sights on Sheriff Mooney.  Ever the silver-tongued devil, Boyd convinces a dying coal miner named Hayes Workman to walk into a diner and shoot the Sheriff (though, of course, not the deputy because duh).  And Hayes totally does after Boyd skedaddles.  Classic Boyd!  If he’s not ducking out on a check, he’s totally ordering hits on public figures in rinky-dink diners.**

**How awesome was it to watch the diner clear out, Boyd emerge, and take a seat across from Mora at the table.  Trembling as blood drips from her face, she can only watch in abject horror as he calmly instructs her to leave town without claiming the recompense previously promised her.  Only thing that could have made this scene better?  Had Boyd, with approaching police sirens wailing in the background, concluded his threat by biting into a toasted English muffin after tipping a glass of orange juice in her direction.  Tropicana advertisers, take note.

Boyd and Ava get their hopes up, as Paxton’s “suicide” (tee hee bc it totally wasn’t) destroys the DA’s case and forces the office to rescind all charges.  However, I don’t think Boyd and Ava have ever seen an episode of Justified because, if they had, they would know never to get their hopes up.  Ava finds herself scheduled for release the following morning, and Boyd positively titters with excitement.  One small problem.  Remember that rapey prison guard from earlier?  Turns out he plotted with Ava’s roommate to plant a shank under her mattress. But the psychological torture doesn’t end there.  He then stabs himself with the shank in front of her as the roomie calls for help.  Um, creepy prison guard?  Sir?  I’m worried about you, like for real.  This is not the behavior of a healthy-minded person, and I think you might need a dollop of counseling.  Sorry to offend, but it’s true.  Unfortunately, the prison system does not get hot under the collar when an inmate shanks a guard, so Ava gets transferred to the State Penitentiary and beyond Boyd’s realm of influence.  #ModernRomance

Meanwhile, US Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens has a veritable bee in his bonnet over Darryl Crowe.  He’s strutting around, demanding a reinstatement of his parole, but Raylan’s diverted attention allows an unforeseen storm of poo to land on his doorstep in the form of Wyn Duffy’s good friend Picker.

Remember Art traveling up to Detroit in the previous episode, where he interrogated Al, the delightful Canadian thug played by the also-delightful Will Sasso?  Well, a true-blue rascal by the name of Elias Marcos (Alan Tudyk, having a blast and continuing the incredible streak of guest actors dropping in and out) finds out about Al’s chat with the federales, and he totally shoots him several times in the chest after learning he gave up Picker’s name!  Shoots him until he dies, I mean.  Jeez, Justified.  Are we working through some anger issues?  BECAUSE I’M LOVING IT!***

***Hands down, my favorite sequence of the episode has to be Art confronting Marcos in the parking lot outside of the (different) diner Picker sits in, as the two discuss the pros and cons of the Hilton versus Hyatt  as far as brunch buffets go.  And then Marcos showing up inside the diner anyway and threatening Picker in Spanish?  Great stuff, though, given the rest of the episode as context, I felt pretty certain it would turn into the diner from L.A. Confidential, but alas no blood is shed.  Let’s just say it: Art is a national treasure.  You know it, I know it, Art knows it.  Keep on keeping on, Art.

After finding himself dragged into the Marshall’s office, Picker makes a deal with the DA to turn over Marcos and–in turn–the elusive Theo Tonin, for whom Marcos works.  Nothing if not a team player, Picker provides Raylan and Art with a begrudging tip on where to locate the crazed hit man: a warehouse filled with shipping containers.  At first, it seems like a Picker has lied, but then Marcos bursts out of nowhere firing  what I imagine is a gun but looks more like an automatic anti-aircraft turret.  Holy God!  The preponderance of bullets expended throughout the episode served as little more than a prelude to the shoot out that followed.  However, Marcos doesn’t realize that Raylan’s trigger finger feels a tad itchy because he hasn’t personally shot anyone to death in a while.  But then he totally shoot Marcos through the chest.  Oh, Raylan!  Your insatiable bloodlust certainly points to deep-seated emotional issues, but just don’t ever change, okay?

At first, Art feels bummed because Marcos served as the only link to Theo Tonin, but then a rather observant officer finds blood pooling around a shipping container riddled with bullets.  At first, they all look confused because no one ever thought inanimate shipping containers could bleed, but life is a mystery, so who knows?  Upon opening the container door, who is inside in the fetal position clutching a gunshot wound?  Theo Tonin, of course, gift-wrapped just in time for Art’s impending retirement!****

****I really wish Rip Taylor had also popped out in an explosion of confetti and a braying of New Years party favors just to sell the crap out of that moment.  But I guess he was busy somewhere else?  Well, forget you Rip Taylor.

You know what time it is?  It’s #CroweTime!  First off, poor Dewey.  He plays Santa Clause to some hookers, pawning off a turtle dog figurine (wtf that is) and his patented necklace.  I’m afraid poor, sweet, dumb Dewey might take a plunge down the rabbit hole; if his philosophical meanderings on regret and the possibility of change serve as proof, that tumble seems likely to occur sooner rather than later.  Wendy arrives in Harlan on Kendall’s behalf, injecting some much needed estrogen into the family dynamic.  Homegirl is fierce!  She doesn’t let nobody trifle with her nohow, least of all Darryl.  Speaking of Darryl, he and the Haitian have a conversation with Boyd about getting what’s owed them as far as Audrey’s goes, though of course neither of those two chuckleheads realize that they are in the presence of and insulting Boyd in his own bar.  As mentioned above, Boyd had a pretty busy few days and did not feel like dealing with their nonsense for like even a second.  Finally, Danny Crowe shoots the Haitian in the face with a shotgun after getting into a heated discussion about grocery shopping because it seemed a shame to leave the body count at a number divisible by two.

Elsewhere, Boyd backchannels Dunham and convinces him to turn over Johnny but not before leaving behind the marijuana business and joining him in a friendly game of Mexican Black Tar Heroin Smuggling (coming soon from Parker Brothers), Johnny turns the table on Dunham, and Picker tells the DA that FBI Agent Barclay was the fed involved in Nicky Augustine’s murder, prompting Raylan to (it seems) tell the truth to Art.  Ruh-roh!

What a great episode.  Trimming the fat–not that this show ever had any to begin with–of many secondary characters allowed the already complex and tight narrative to tighten even further, promising more outlandishly violent and fiendishly entertaining episodes to follow.  Bring ’em on!


Harlan Chit-Chat

– Boyd [to Paxton]: “Death will not be the end of your suffering.  For generations, your children and your children’s children will have a mark against their name.  And that will be your legacy.” [Pulls trigger]

– Wendy Crowe: “Does your campaign of harassment against our family know no limits?”

Raylan: “I gave the boy ten cents.”

– Art: “I thought I was being rather genial.  I could be a lot less so, but just between us chickens, I’m not here on official business.”

– Boyd: “I’ve been accused of a lot of things.  Being inarticulate ain’t one of them.”

– Raylan: “It wasn’t Barclay, and I can tell you that for a fact.”


Downton Abbey S04E08: “Episode 8”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “retreating to the Continent for several months.”

Well golly gee wilikers, this episode of Downton positively burst at the seams with narrative developments, didn’t it?  I mean, so much happened that pigs only received six or seven mentions during the entire running time!  I know, right?  With such scant reminders of the season’s must intense plot line, I forgot what show I sat watching for a minute or two there.  Well, let’s get to it, shall we?

Let me just assuage your concern up front: the pigs made a full recovery.  Go ahead.  It’s safe to wipe the sweat from your brow, and it’s no longer necessary to sit perched on the edge of your couch.  It seems the heroics of Mr. Blake and Mary paid off.  I repeat: the pigs are doing fine.  #PorkMiracles Even so, Mary learned her lesson and realizes she needs a real expert on hand, so Mr. Drew (he of the dead father from earlier in the season) becomes overlord of all things pig at Downton.  Braised be to God!  We are delivered.**

**Along for the trip to Drew’s because no one can resist the pulse-pounding excitement of a good pig wrangleLady Edith uses her peepers to take a walk all up and down Mr. Drew’s farmer’s frame, sizing him up real good like.  She has plans for him, but more on that later.

This week, Mary’s love triangle intensifies (can we all just agree that it’s nice try Mr. Napier, but it ain’t happening?).  Blake even does his best impression of an actual human by holding a crying baby George like a burlap sack filled with wasps, so I definitely get what Mary might see in him.  We’re talking personality overhaul here.  After #OperationPigRescue, homeboy is basically Ghandi is my point.  Then the recently single Gillingham announces his triumphant return to Downton, which leads me to believe he might actually be homeless because he spends a great deal of time traveling and not at his own house–if it exists.  Anyhow, news of Gillingham’s arrival ensures that Mary has more to do in this episode than exist as the subject of Blake’s and Gillingham’s affections.

ANNA FINALLY TELLS MARY ABOUT HER ATTACK.  In case you were wondering, I wrote that in capital letters as a subtle way to stress my feelings on the clumsy way Julian Fellowes handled this plot.  Why withhold information from Mary?  Actually, she stands in a position to help the situation without involving Bates at all by asking Gillingham to sack Green.  Anna’s reticence smacks of falsified melodrama, the one thing I voiced concerns about when this plot began in episode three.  Still, it’s out in the open now, thankfully.

Mary plants a seed of doubt in Gillingham by asking him his opinion of Green before he departs for London.  Yes, you heard me!  She straight up incepts Tony Gillingham, so when Mary follows up this inquiry with a trip to London, he concedes to fire his valet because Mary’s forcefulness totally turns him on.  I need to go back and watch Inception because I’ll admit I thought this whole time it was a work of fiction, but did Mary just prove it’s a documentary?

Meanwhile, Mr. Bates takes a mysterious trip to York on his day off, the very same day Mr. Green becomes a human crepe after tripping into the road and getting hilariously run over.*** When Anna questions him about the coincidence, he gets all coy.  Me murder?  Psshaw, boo.

***Is it weird that I picture this scene transpiring as a silent movie replete with overwrought histrionics and jouncy classical score?  Green saddles up to the curb as cars clatter by; Bates sneaks up next to him, sticks his foot out, and shoves Green; Green’s mouth opens in surprise as he falls out of frame; Bates rubs his hands together and smiles as the screen recedes to a pinprick around his face.  Although I hate the thought of Fellowes leading us down the “Bates did a bad murder” path again, if it went down like I think it should, then I would forego my reservations.

 Hey quick question: remember when Daisy was an actual character and not just a human pawn in a love rhombus no one on the planet cared about?  I’d almost forgotten, too!  Fortunately, she visits Mr. Mason as a way to avoid Alfred.  Daisy’s upset because the ginger ladykiller wrote a letter to Ivy telling her his dad died (aww) and he wants to marry her (huh).  I cherished Daisy’s relationship with Mason from earlier Downton seasons, and I found myself thrilled to revisit it again.  Plus, because Mr. Mason is adorable, he encourages Daisy to suck it up, part ways with Alfred amicably, and be done with it.  Also, he makes Alfred a road cheese basket because obviously.  While this plotline very much ran its course, the tender final (hopefully final) scene between Alfred and Daisy, wherein he apologizes for overlooking her constant kindness and affection and she accepts graciously, put this to rest in as sweet a way as possible.  Also, Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy she’s as proud of her as her own daughter and made us all choke up.  Damn you, Patmore!  (I don’t mean that.  I love you unconditionally…)

Speaking of tears, how about #SadEdith?  Remember her googly eyes at Drew?  Turns out she plans to have the baby and pass him or her off to the pig farmer!  Aunt Rosamund is all like, “Don’t be a dumb dumb, E.  Let’s, I dunno, pretend we want to take an immersive French class in Switzerland, have the kid there, then move back here?”  Textbook deception right there.  The Dowager Countess, pained though she is to do so, agrees with Rosamund.  Oh yeah, she knows #SadEdith is preggers because duh.****

****One small moment I loved in this episode is Edith waving off the wine during a luncheon while Carson, Downton’s resident photobomber, scowls curiously from the background.  Classic Carson!

Well I’m depressed.  Seriously, #SadEdith, can you win the lottery or something next season?  I don’t want to make you feel worse, but you are totes exhausting.  Let’s turn those frowns upside down and talk a little bit about Tom Branson and his new relationship with Mrs. Bunting.    Things get off to a steamy start when Bunting’s car breaks down at the side of the road.  Branson slaps down his trip-A card, rolls up his sleeves, and peeks under her hood.  Wowzers!  Never before has roadside assistance dripped with such palpable sexual tension.  Bless my stars!

But this isn’t the burgeoning romance that gripped me this episode.  To get to the one that is, it’s time–believe it or not–for #MoseleyWatch!  Turns out Baxter finds Moseley’s morose despondency quite attractive, which makes me worried about her but also delighted for Moseley.  I don’t know about you, but I’m shipping these two hard.  Watch out Detective Isobel and Dr. Clarkson, two ripe tomatoes just rolled into town!  Moseley’s insistence that Baxter  not allow Thomas to manipulate her into being someone she’s not works so well.  Excellent use of Moseley.  If we didn’t get to see him stroke out over wearing gloves, this at least works as a solid replacement.  Hurray Moseley!  I’m sure your joy will be as ephemeral as a fart in the wind, but hurray for now!

The episode reaches its feverish climax during Cora’s overseeing of the church bazaar on the Downton grounds.  Food, games of chance, and great company abound.*****  In Downton‘s equivalent of an action sequence, Cora appoints Jimmy in charge of the tea tent.  THE TEA TENT.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THAT IS HOLY, HE’S JUST A BOY!  HE’S NOT READY!  Fortunately, Jimmy does not have to endure such brutal intensity because Robert rolls up, having returned from the States.  Oh my God, you guys.  Is Robert an attention whore?

*****Best scene of the night: Moseley shaming Jimmy at the strong man station.  It’s all in the arms.  Isn’t that right, Jimmy?

I’ve always appreciated how the show has treated Cora’s relationship with Robert.  True affection and love exists there, and that shines through radiantly during his sweet homecoming.  But other than lobbing a few references on Prohibition being a real drag and bringing news that Cora’s brother received a slap on the wrist for his participation in the scandal I didn’t care enough about to get the particulars of, Robert didn’t have too much to do.  I’m glad he’s back though.  Missed that self-righteous mug of his!

Elsewhere, Mary’s godfather gives Dr. Clarkson a run for his money and begins to court Isobel, Ross proposes to then breaks off his engagement to Rose, and Blake recommends Downton taking on dairy now that pigs have been so successful (pump the breaks there, Jeff Gordon!).

Sunday’s episode really set the table for what will hopefully prove an exciting season finale next week.  I’m not sold on all of the plots at the moment, but as long as Bates’s involvement in Green’s death proves a misdirection, I can forgive all manners of sins.  Otherwise, I’m going to go all #Taken4 on this show.

Until next weekend, Downtonites!


Snippets of Intrigue

– Moseley: “Life kicks the stuffing out of you, doesn’t it?”

– Patmore: “Blimey!  He puts a lot in a letter does Alfred.”

– Moseley: “It’s just coffee.  You won’t have to surrender any of your independence.”

– Dowager Countess: “No life appears rewarding if you think too much about it.”

– Isobel: “I’m a feeble substitute for the entire Crawley family.”

Dowager Countess: “Yes, but you’re better than nothing.”

Isobel: “How warming you make that sound.”

– Branson: “I don’t believe in types.  I believe in people.”

– Mary: “I find that irritating and beguiling in equal measure.”

– Dowager Countess [on Gillingham]: “He’s the most unconvincing fiancé I’ve ever come across.”

Valentine’s Day Love Note to an HBO Favorite

Dear True Detective,

I’ve envied you from afar for the past several weeks, but I’ve finally worked up the courage to tell you what’s been on my mind since we first met on that frigid night of January 12th.  You might not have seen me, but I saw you.  Outside, the wind chilled me to the bone; but, nestled within the warmth of my home, you thawed my heart the moment I lay eyes on you.  As your haunting opening credits began, I knew  I sat in the presence of greatness.  What I’m trying to say is that, OMG, I totes heart you forever, True Detective.  You’re smart, broody, aloof, enigmatic, stunning, and compelling, the ideal qualities for a television soul mate.

I guess I just want to know: will you be my Valentine?

Before you answer, let me tell you about your bewitching personality.  You are so incredibly adept at the fine art of characterization, making it look like the easiest thing in the world.  Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is a singular creation, a kind of Abed Nadir for the gritty crime drama set, unafraid to expound on his at times bizarre takes on religion, morality, and friendship; McConaughey (in the midst of a veritable career McConaissance) has never been better in bringing him to life, probing the depths of a tragic past–the death of his daughter–to inform his muted, almost robotic personality now.  And, please, that’s not to take away from Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart, a volatile family man whose predilections hint at more darkness than Rust could fathom.  Watching these two play off each other (oh, how I savor scenes of them talking in the car) has been a joy.

But, True Detective, it’s not just your personality I’m interested in; its your complex way of weaving a story.  Dispensing with chronology, you’ve mastered cross-cutting between the ritualistic murder Rust and Marty investigated back in 1995 (thanks for playing off my innate fear of deer antlers, btw; don’t worry, I forgive you) and  Rust and Marty’s parallel interrogations in 2012 for reasons currently kept murky.  But most miraculously of all, you’ve somehow managed to keep me invested in both stories equally.  In lesser hands than showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, such a device could come across as little more than a hackneyed contrivance, but you’re something special, True Detective.

Man oh man are you gorgeous, too!  Seriously, you take my breath away!  Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (of the positively-dripping-with-gothic-sensibilities film version of Jane Eyre) captures the sweeping beauty of the Southern setting without shying away from the disturbing nooks and crannies lurking within.  How about that creepy pop-up church nestled in a field of wheat?  Or that absolutely stellar ending sequence from Sunday’s episode when Rust finds himself caught inside a Texas housing projects that explodes in a volcano of violence?  Tempering a balance between beauty and horror is never simple, but you make gorgeous terror absolutely beguiling.

You’re one of a kind, True Detective, but I think you know that already.  The confidence you exude is impressive.  You know what story you want to tell, and you tell it with a breathless abandon.  Part of me wishes there were more shows like you out there, but then–if there were–you wouldn’t seem so special anymore.  And that would be a real shame.  I know you’re going to get plenty of offers for Valentine’s day companionship, but consider my offer, True Detective.

I think I’m in love with you.



P.S. I’ll see you on Sunday.  (I hope that doesn’t sound creepy.)

Community S05E06: “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of a “banana train.”

Let’s get this first bit out of the way right off the bat: we can agree this was quite noticeably the worst episode of Community‘s otherwise outstanding fifth season, right?  I mean, I know it; you know it.  We both love this show so much that it kind of hurts to admit it, but it’s okay.  This was a lesser episode of Community, though that’s not to say it didn’t elicit a handful of laughs.

Writing the episode that follows the departure of a beloved character cannot possibly be easy.  And when the departing character in question is a fan-favorite like Troy Barnes, the task’s difficulty must seem even more daunting.  Though Harmon did his best to show us that this show can–and will–continue without Troy, the results were muddled at best.  Take that wide shot of the study room: Hickey in Pierce’s old seat, Chang in Troy’s, and Professor Duncan cozying up next to Jeff.  Look, I’m all for an expansion of the central study group, but I’ll admit I still cringed.  The heart doesn’t heal overnight.

Unfortunately, what makes Troy’s absence so palpable in this episode is the simple fact that the script just seemed a bit…lazy?  Don’t get me wrong; I found myself chuckling during Annie’s descent into the bureaucracy of Greendale with Hickey in tow because, let’s be honest, it had its moments.  But those B and C plots?  Mildly amusing at best.  Sorry, but you know I’m right.

The episode’s predominant narrative involves Annie and Professor/Amateur Cartoonist Buzz Hickey cutting through the red tape to get a bulletin board repaired, and it’s a road paved with an almost exhausting lineup of guest stars.  Because nothing at Greendale can happen without a custodial work order, Annie and Buzz infiltrate them first.  Enter Nathan Fillion as the Chief Custodian, a slippery dude who agrees to bump up the work order (putting it well ahead of the pending one to lower the flag for Reagan’s death) if Annie can get the IT head to remove the porn filter on his computer.  Back door deals indeed!**  But faster than you can say quid pro quoturns out the IT head is sick of parking with the reprehensible lunch ladies, so she won’t turn off the blocker until she gets a better spot.

**Yes, the same Nathan Fillion that is Chang’s male celebrity crush.  I hoped they would return to this gag from a few weeks ago (seemed perfect), but Fillion had very little to do.  Too little, actually.

This leads Annie and Buzz to the head of parking, Walden (played by Robert Patrick because why not?).  He’ll agree to give the IT head the spot if the Dean appoints him in charge of all bulletin boards across campus.  You see, bulletin boards are the breeding ground of carpool notices, the very downfall of the parking industry.  Makes sense.  More than any reason I can come up with as to why Patrick took this role.  Anyhow, they wind up at the office of Dean Pelton, who agrees to Walden’s appointment as long as Annie and Buzz toast him with a salutation of “easy peasy lemon squeezie.”  #DeanLogic  Buzz refuses, accuses Annie of perpetuating the sketchy goings on of Greendale just to prove a point, and storms off.

I appreciated some of the slams on the bureaucratic nonsense of schools and liked the friendship that began to form by episode’s end when Hickey begrudgingly nailed up his personal bulletin board in the cafeteria.  I’ll allow it.  I also love that we caught up with additional departmental facets of Greendale here, but I hope this is not the last we will see of them.

Had the episode just focused on this story, I might have been a bit more forgiving.  But the whole Britta story turned out to be the absolute WORST.  Last week, she showed a depth of compassion for Abed that was truly moving.  But this week?  She resorts to buying off a girl Abed likes just to out-spoiler him (via sign language of course) in regards to a current favorite show, Bloodlines of Conquest, an obvious Game of Thrones allusion.***  It sort of undid the growth we saw in Britta last week, and for what purpose, exactly?

***Basically, it amounted to a backhanded allusion to GoT‘s infamous Red Wedding sequence, which begs the question: why bother fabricating a different fantasy show when the jokes and parallels were so transparent?  Community is no stranger to incorporating actual shows into their comedy (Troy and Abed’s obsession with The Cape springs to mind), so this just felt lazy and half-baked.

The final storyline sees the remaining characters (Jeff, Chang, Duncan, and Shirley) coming together to plan a theme for the Midterms Dance.  I couldn’t motivate myself to care one little bit, though Garrett screaming, “It’s a bear dance!” at the episode’s conclusion almost (almost) made up for it because if Community had an episode featuring Garrett screaming for its duration, it would be amazing.  Dude is hilarious is my point.  But the rest of the plot?  I suppose if you find Chang’s theme inspiration being drawn from a bear attacking a children’s birthday party funny, then it was.  Not so much for me.

Hey, look.  Not every episode can be a home run.  Sometimes, you need one that bunts a ball foul for its third strike to make those actual home runs more exciting.  #BaseballAnalogies  After a string of solid installments, it’s just a shame that Community  went into its Olympics break with such a weak one.

Oh well.  I have absolutely no doubt that it will recover.  Harmon always does.


 Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Professor Duncan: “They really get the incest right!”

– Professor Buzz Hickey: “Welcome to the labyrinth, kid.  Except there ain’t no puppets or bisexual rock stars down here.”

– Dean Pelton: “Man, this got Sorkin-y.”

– Annie [about what she wants allowed through the blocker]: “EVERYTHING!”

Downton Abbey S04E07: “Episode 7”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “refusing to be shocked.”

In comparison to last week’s nearly frantic episode of Downton, Sunday night’s installment had a more measured sense of pace that allowed the narrative to service (ha! hospitality puns!) its several plots more evenly, moving them forward without sacrificing a sense of organic growth.  Well played, Downton!  But enough of this high-faluting expostulating!  Let’s get to the good stuff!

If I had to boil down everything that happened on Sunday to a single word, that would be simple: PIGS.  I mean, right?  Look, I know Downton’s decision to move into intensive farming is groundbreaking for those involved and gives Robert a real acute case of the heebie-jeebies, but can I just say it?  Enough already.  The only way I’ll be this interested in pigs is if I’m watching a two hour PSA on bacon.  And is it me, or might Tom need some kind of hobby?  Homeboy is alarmingly interested in the oinkers, so good on Isobel for getting tickets to the nearby political rally because I was starting to worry that Downton was taking us down an incredibly uncomfortable romantic path with Tom.  Mostly, I’m kidding.**

**Speaking of which, Isobel and Tom are totes #Besties.  Out for a drive in the open country, top down, sun gleaming, basically sticking it to Matthew for being a real tool behind the wheel.  Just a couple of BFFs talking smack about the PM and joshing around.  I heart this friendship SO. MUCH.

But before you think this plotline was nothing more than window-dressing, it got real pretty quick.  On a stroll to check out the pens, Blake and Mary stumble upon the unthinkable: dehydrated pigs and an overturned water trough.  DEAR, MERCIFUL GOD, WHY?  NOT THE PIGS!  NOT THE PIGS!  ANYTHING BUT THE PIGS!  Let me assuage your fears, though.  Blake jumps into action and into the literal muck with Mary, saving the day.  And then to put a capper on such a precious bonding moment, as Mary realizes Blake is more than an uptight theorist and has actual practical value,  the two smear mud (and possibly feces) on each other’s faces.  Adorbs.  Look out, Mr. Napier, you’ve got some competition!

Speaking of romantic contests, when did Alfred suddenly become Downton’s downstairs version of George Clooney?  Dude’s got to fend the ladies off with a rolling pin these days.  Ivy sees Jimmy for the perv he is and now is all about climbing that ginger mountain, while Daisy is still head over heels.  In my favorite plot of the episode, Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson fabricate a ruse to keep Alfred from visiting Downton so as not to complicate the love rhombus.***

***Though if Mrs. Patmore wanted to turn it into a spicy pentagon, this guy would have zero complaints.

Question: what’s the best way to keep an unwelcome guest from the old drop-in?  A virulent disease, of course!  #TheMoreYouKnow.  Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson decide to tell Alfred that influenza is sweeping through Downton, so they board him at a local pub and hope that’s the end of it.  Of course it’s not the end of it.  Alfred wanders in unannounced, setting the ladies’ hearts aflutter because the gangly ginger look is really revving their automated mixers, if you catch my drift.  But then, faster than you can say “heart-breaking Gordon Ramsay,” he’s gone.  So Alfred’s a stone-cold ladykiller now, and it’s sort of amazing.

You know what’s not amazing?  #SadEdith, of course!  Gregson is still missing, and Edith has declined multiple offers from Robert to hire a private investigator to get to the bottom of it.  I’d hate to beat a dead horse (or, heaven forbid, pig), but Detective Isobel is available now that Violet kicked that pesky bronchitis and is totes not dying and stuff.  I’m sure she’d take the case is my point.  Anyhow, Edith confesses to Cora that Gregson disappeared in Munich after checking into his hotel but for some reason withholds the little tidbit about him checking in on his mentally incapacitated wife.  Somehow, she doesn’t think it would warm the cockles of Cora’s heart.  Probably a good call.  But her excuse?  He became too enthused with Munich’s architecture and wandered off.  Um, what?  Edith, do you get lying, girl? I’m worried ’bout you, boo.

But, for me, what makes Edith’s plot work so well this week is that she finds an unexpected confidante in Aunt Rosamund in London.  This is a great pairing of two characters, and Rosamund’s steadfast support of Edith deciding to abort her unborn child plays powerfully.  Thank God someone’s on Edith’s side.  For real.  In the end, the dour atmosphere and hysterically weeping women change Edith’s mind, which is a much more interesting dramatic development for her as a character and the show overall.****

****Rose tagged along on Edith’s “Doomed Lovers” road trip so she could meet up with Mr. Ross on a gondola and PDA all over his face.  I hate to be that guybut I have a sneaking suspicion this interracial fling is going to be less fairytale ending and more #SadEdith.  Just saying.

Well, I’m depressed.  Thanks Edith.  I don’t want to put this all on you, but you can be a real Debbie Downer.  Fortunately, when I’m depressed, there’s just one character whose misery positively uplifts my spirits.  That’s right, it’s that time again: #MoseleyWatch.  He didn’t have a ton to do, but I think he’s been spending some time with Isobel because am I sensing a detective hiding under the footman’s uniform?  He’s totally onto Baxter and Thomas’s thing, though like the best investigators, he doesn’t have a clue that he’s done that yet.  But if Moseley becomes the Watson to Isobel’s Sherlock, I will simply swear off television because nothing could possibly be better than that in the timeline of the human experience.

Oh, right, I guess we should talk about the small fact that GILLINGHAM RETURNED TO DOWNTON WITH HIS VALET MR. GREEN.  I know, right?  Let’s be honest, Mary now playing an extremely awkward version of The Dating Game (though I would love to see how Napier, Blake, and Gillingham would respond to the question about their favorite place to “make whoopie”) is the least of our worries.  While Moseley (sweet, dumb Moseley) chats with Green about the card game from last time,  Mrs. Hughes eviscerates Green–unfortunately, just metaphorically–in the boot room as he scrubs shoes.  This is a very clever set-up, almost the complete inverse of the similarly-staged scene between Bates and Anna from a few weeks back.  I see what you did there, Julian Fellowes!  Anyhow Mrs. Hughes makes it clear that he’s been a real rascal and she is not his biggest fan in the world.  Truth hurts, doesn’t it, Green?  Dusting off his pride and taking a seat with the rest of the downstairs staff, Mr. Bates glowers across the table at him, straight up EYE MURDERING HIM GOOD.  Holy cow, you guys.  Chills ran up my arm.  #Taken3

Elsewhere, Robert leaves for America to help Cora’s brother Harold out of a financial jam with Thomas in tow as his valet, Isobel and Violet play cards well into the night to celebrate the Dowager’s recovery, and Branson makes a lady friend at a political rally.  Also, pigs.  Lots and lots of pigs.

As the season hits the final stretch of episodes, the many plot lines are hurtling to some sort of inevitable resolution, promising nothing more or less than wholesale family upheaval.  I impatiently await how this all plays out.


Snippets of Intrigue

– Mrs. Hughes: “I’m sorry to hear you’re suspicious of me, but I daresay we’ve both got the personality to overcome it.”

– Dowager Countess: “Try not to let those Yankees drive you mad!”

– Mrs. Patmore: “I don’t think we need praise from the French quite yet.” (lol #PatmoreLove)

– Mrs. Hughes: “Say there’s flu in the house and he mustn’t miss out on his course.”

Mr. Carson: “You’re quite the plotter when you have to be, aren’t you?”

Mrs. Hughes: “It’s a skill all women must learn.”

– Dowager Countess [in the grip of a fever]: “This one talks too much! She’s like a drunk vicar!”

– Clarkson [on her patience with Isobel]: “You’ll be rewarded in heaven.”

Dowager Countess: “The sooner the better.”

Justified S05E04: “Over the Mountain”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “a Webelos shovel.”

I know we’re only four episodes deep, but I’m going to go out on a limb and declare this the most tightly-plotted season of Justified yet.  Characters we might have presumed as one-off creations have reemerged to add more color to this beautiful Harlan tapestry, complicating the interwoven plot strands we’re seeing balanced on a weekly basis.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m more in love with Justified now than ever.  I’m pretty much ready to give it a key to my place, or at least ask it to keep a toothbrush here.

We pick up with Dewey Crowe leading Wade Messer into the woods, ostensibly to make good on his promise to kill Messer, who we learned last week’s been skimming money off the top of Dewey’s brothel for Boyd Crowder.  Under the auspices of digging up some buried treasure, Wade brings along a collapsable Webelos shovel to help out (all of the lol at the sight gag of him screwing it together).  But this is Dewey Crowe we’re talking about here, so the “hit” does not go off as planned.  I mean, sure, he plugs Wade in the chest once, but after a skirmish, Wade runs off, and Dewey chases, falling down a mountain himself before wandering around the woods looking for a man he should have killed.  Oh Dewey Crowe, don’t ever change!**

**Later, when Dewey finds a barely-alive Messer, a family of campers intervenes (as he’s about to deliver the death stroke) because they fear he’s been poisoned by sunchoke.  Perfect blend of comedy and suspense.  When Justified can strike that balance as well as it did here, you know you’re in for a treat.  I’m not saying I enjoy laughing when I watch people die on screen, but this show just gets me, you know?

But things are about to get more complicated than a screw-on shovel head.  Turns out Wade’s been an undercover CI for quite some time, plying the DA with information on Boyd Crowder!  Hear that?  It’s the sound of my #MindExplosion.  But, um, I’m also with Raylan on this one: dude’s several M&Ms short of a variety pack intellectually speaking, so this seemed like a bizarre choice of informant.  Our favorite US Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens even postulates that maybe, just maybe, Boyd was savvy to this and might have possibly used this to his advantage?  The DA’s all like, “Totes unlikely that your BFF’s that smart.”  Little do they know!

With Raylan on the case (along with Tim as his partner because Tim is the absolute best, and that is not an opinion but a fact), the trail leads him to some deep-cut members of the Crowe family.  These include such colorful members of high society as Kendall Crowe, the middle school aged bartender at Dewey’s brothel, and Danny Crowe, who enjoys a full afternoon of semi-nude dog training when he’s not engaged in philosophical discussions on the role of determinism and the metaphysics of moral responsibility with his roomie Wade.  Just kidding!  I am fairly sure neither of them have advanced degrees, but I hate to be judgmental.  I’m loving the way Raylan just cannot avoid the reaches of family this season, whether it’s his biological family, adopted family, or rival criminal family.

After shaking down Boyd and deciding he’s likely uninvolved, Raylan tracks the GPS coordinates on Wade’s burner phone to a quaint bed and breakfast.  Speaking of eating, a ton of crows were totally pecking out the eyeballs of Wade Messer, who’s dead by the way (man, isn’t everything just coming up Dewey these days?).  Darryl picks up Dewey in his truck (thank God for that Verizon service coming through at last) and straight up learns Dewey but good about his inextricable link to the Crowe’s bidness now.  Is it weird that I sort of feel sorry for Dewey Crowe, career lowlife?  Well, I do, and I’m sorry I’m not sorry!

Raylan, meanwhile, is not really pleased with Darryl sticking his Floridian mug in where it doesn’t belong and goes to Aubrey’s to encourage them to return to Miami.  Unfortunately, Darryl is a real stick in the mud as far as it goes and refuses, so Raylan pulls out a piece of paper and takes Kendall away on behalf of Child Protective Services.***  Awesome!

***Speaking of CPC, it’s possible that Allison doesn’t understand the concept of pillow talk?  Because sharing an anecdote of her rescuing an eight-year-old from being chained to a radiator by an abusive father is not the best way to bask in the afterglow? Just saying.

Boyd, meanwhile, is in the midst of dealing with an awkward family situation of his own, having learned that Cousin Johnny is behind the theft of his product.  After a wonderfully constructive family meeting in jail, the Crowders come to an agreement and put this whole mess behind them, embracing and showering one-another in I-love-yous.  Come to think of it, that definitely did not happen.  Johnny basically told Boyd to bring it, as well as to take his offer of money and crumple it into a wad before cramming deep into the recesses of his tukus.  Families, right?

But this plot line took a great, surprising turn as well.  You see, Boyd had henchman Carl follow Johnny.  I’ll be honest, I doubt Carl can tie his shoes and chew gum at the same time, so color me surprised when he completed his orders successfully.  Turns out Johnny is in cahoots with Hot Rod Dunham, the bearded gentlemen whose affairs Loretta found herself embroiled in earlier in the season.  Another well-timed #MindExplosion!

But Carl was not done being a good lap dog!  He then tells Boyd to cover his eyes and leads him to an abandoned building, where he pulls off a tarp and reveals a litter of new born puppies!  What a pleasant way to end the episode!  Sorry, I’m kidding again!  Carl straight up shows Boyd many, many dead bodies****.  It was an odd choice of gift, but maybe I just don’t know Boyd as well as I thought.

****Remind me never to ask Carl to plan me a surprise birthday party because I would personally not enjoy a pile of corpses.

Elsewhere, Art travels to Detroit and interrogates one of the Canadian thugs (Will Sasso) about Nicky Augustine’s tarmac murder, prompting my third #MindExplosion, Ava has a protector or fifty in jail, and Paxton receives the thoughtful gift of a severed hand.

It seems like Justified cannot be stopped right now, as it continues to add layers and depth to this ever-enriching mosaic that is Harlan County.  When a show is as excellent as this one is right now, the only thing you can do is hold on tight and enjoy the consistently surprising ride.  Yee-haw!


Harlan Chit-Chit

– Raylan: “He’s a drug addict and a Board-certified imbecile.”

Art: “Shouldn’t be too hard to find him then.”

– Raylan [on Danny and Wade as roommates]: “That’s a sitcom I’d pay to see.”

– Boyd: “Your use of past tense gives me some sense of foreboding.”

– Raylan: “Boyd, if we thought you did it, you’d be in a holding cell, and a happier thought I can scarcely conjure.”

– Raylan: “Tell your brother he takes any step further out of my line of sight, it’ll be the last step he ever takes.”


Top Chef S11E17: “Finale”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “singing with harmony.”

Top Chef enjoys spicing things up when it comes to its finale episodes.  Last year we had a live installment that crowned the exceedingly worthy Kristin as the ultimate victor, and this year we were treated to an episode with a positively JJ Abrams-style structure: we open on the judges embroiled in a veritable verbal kerfuffle, seemingly locked in a *gasp* tie.  But then faster than you can say “in desperate need of salt,” we’re transported forty-eight hours earlier to see how this crazy train called life first left the station.

And the first words out of Nick’s mouth brought us back to reality: “Every kitchen I’ve ever been in, I’ve always been like the best chef.”  We’re all aware that modesty and Nick parted company some time ago, likely when it turned up his oven temperature or failed to clean one of his knives thoroughly, but seriously?  As soon as Nick stopped waxing poetic about all that made him wonderful, Padma arrived to announce the final Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut here): to create a four-course menu and serve it in a pop up restaurant.  Because Nick has been communing with Satan these past weeks, his most recent Hawaiian victory gave him an edge.**

**At first, I thought Nick’s advantage was simply having the pleasure of watching Padma strut into his house in that red bikini because wowsers.  This was enough to convince me to leave my house unlocked at all times from now on just in case Padma is ever in the area and feels the need to bust all up in my house because, if we’re being honest, I would not call the cops on her.

But alas, Nick’s edge was to select his three person team first from the amalgamation of cast-off cheftestants from this season.  Nick clearly didn’t understand the opportunity in front of him and so selected Jason first because I guess he felt that the secret ingredient missing from his food this season (in addition to salt, of course) was a healthy dose of palpable homoerotic tension.  Palpable homoerotic tension nested lovingly in cornsilk, of course.  I mean what are we, savages?  Anyhow, he then picked Louis because Louis is a boss, and then he picked Brian because…well…because…he was in the show and could cut stuff?

Nina scooped up Shirley and Stephanie (she of the self-diagnosed Top Chef jitters) right off the bat because obviously.  When it came to rounding out her team, she picked…Travis?  *Record scratch* Huh?  Was she planning to cook Asian food with an characteristic level of snobbery?  Weird choice, girl.***

***In the end though, everyone was a winner, especially those not selected like Carlos and Janine because they got to hit the beach with Padma.  In that red bikini.  Just saying.

As the planning began, Jason and Nick began bonding over the fusing together of their scallop noodles, which surprised me because this show never aired on HBO before, did it?  Nina decided to be that overachieving finalist and add an amuse-bouche and intermezzo to the already assigned four courses.  After much shopping and beginning stages of prep work, Tom came around for his final installment of Butt-Puckering Mind Games, reminding Nick his panna cotta from #ImmunityGate was the worst and that Jason was a real knob as far as it went.  He asked Nina why she bothered making a dessert when she was clearly uncomfortable and could have gone with four savory dishes.  Tom straight up mind molested both of them so good!  Classic Tom!

Tom and Emeril then told Nick and Nina that they would be taking them out to dinner that evening, and I’m going to be honest; as the two of them wended their way deeper and deeper into the lush foliage of Maui, I thought maybe they were being lured to their deaths?  Talk about a controversial finale!  But, alas, there was no physical murder, just emotional murder as Tom and Emeril, ever the devious rascals,  surprised Nick and Nina with visits from their respective families.****

****We won’t waste too much time on this, but worth mentioning is Nick’s anecdote that he didn’t want to go on a second date with his gorgeous wife because homeboy got more rump roast than a Port Authority toilet as a single playboy.  Gross.

The big day was finally at hand, and Nick took the opportunity to belittle and humiliate his serving staff because they could not comprehend the heights of his genius.  He scolded and cussed and carried on like a cholichy newborn, in stark contrast to Nina’s poised professionalism with her own wait staff.

After Nina’s universally-praised amuse-bouche of breadfruit (whatever that is) with foie gras, she put out a delightful looking first course: tuna and escarole tartar with with jalepeno.  Meanwhile, Nick freaked out over The Case of His Missing Expeditor before going straight up d-bag and barking at the servers in front of the guests that #FishLandsontheLeft.  His first course, also a tartar, found Nick serving hamachi and tuna with apples presented roughly seventeen thousand ways because Nick believes why do something one way well when you can do it several ways terribly?  Makes sense to me!  Also, Nick was very concerned with Emeril’s blood pressure and so was light on the salt.  Just kidding!  Nick just does not, and never will, grasp the complexities of salt, and yet he’s in the finale.

Course two found Nina’s orecchiette and braised goat going up against Nick’s sweet shrimp bisque with scallop and noodles.  Tom wanted to draw a bubble bathe of Nick’s bisque and rub it into his tender places, declaring it the best thing he’d eaten all season.  Maybe it was that splash of homoeroticism from Jason?

The third course pitted Nina’s swordfish and kale dish versus Nick’s duck and squash plate.  The judges weren’t over the moon about either of them, and guest diner Morimoto in particular disliked the earthiness of Nina’s.*****

*****I found it bizarre that the show managed to wrangle international super-chef Morimoto for a stint on this show, but–aside from his above critique–they basically just cut to him every now and then saying “Yeah” and “No.”  Helpful!  #MorimotoWisdom

Nina served her intermezzo of compressed dragon fruit (it looked heavenly) before her underwhelming chocolate zeppole.  Nick’s second attempt at panna cotta, after a near disaster of a misplaced spoon, was better but still not up to the quality of jiggle that Emeril expects both in his food and life.

And then Nick screamed SO LOUD at a server that it resonated through the restaurant.  Awkwardness pervaded the room, but that server deserved it so much in Nick’s opinion because that server had never in her miserable life so much as considered putting anything in cornsilk and was thus an inferior life form.  Then Tom applauded Nick’s well-timed climax on the show, and I was glad I missed that scene.

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut here), the judges found themselves in a dead heat, giving courses one and two to Nina and three and four to Nick.  Padma became the voice of reason and rolled her eyes at Tom’s overtly sexual love for Nick’s scallop and noodles, but he dug in.  Hugh (sweet, innocent Hugh) wanted to bring in the issue of Nick’s explosive anger and demeaning attitude toward the wait staff, but Tom poo-pooed it because apparently Top Chef is a dictatorship.  He also, to Padma’s frustration, refused to judge Nina’s two additional courses because then she would have wiped the floor with him.  I knew what was about to happen, and I didn’t like it one little bit.

Of course Nick won.  Of course.  The least deserving chef seemed pushed through by Tom’s hellbent agenda as he circumvented evidence and logic.  At least he can go draw that bubble bath of shrimp bisque now.  To be clear, this is Tom’s fault.  #TomGate

If I wanted to be dramatic, I’d say Top Chef lost all credibility in picking a wildly inconsistent winner who, still by season’s end, had not mastered rudimentary seasoning.  Had I had a melon baller or citrus press within arm’s reach, I might have hucked it at Tom’s dome.  And yes, I believe Nick is a fundamentally inferior chef to Nina (and Shirley and Louis and Stephanie, for that matter), but I had a blast covering this show and will eagerly await my next opportunity to do so.  You’ve got your grubby mitts in me but good, Top Chef.

Hope you enjoyed reading half as much as I enjoyed writing!  Bye!

Oh, and #NickistheWorst. Ugh.

Justified S05E03: “Good Intentions”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “getting involved with women who run afoul of the law.”

It’s been awhile since my last recap of Justified, but hey, it’s not called just because it sounds fancy.  Quick insight: my DVR is legit overstuffed, so sometimes certain shows that I love take a backseat in the name of more pragmatic management (I’m looking at you, 90-minute episodes of Sherlock).  I know, I know: #TVJunkieProblems.  Well, enough belly-aching!  I’ve been away for far too long and need to dive back into Harlan County feet-first.  Let’s do it!

The first quarter of this outstanding season of Justified could very well be paired with a subtitle: The Distorted Domestication of Raylan Givens.  First, it was about shirking his responsibilities as a father; then it was the inevitability of them finding him; now it’s making sure Raylan can be properly housebroken.  Seriously, our favorite quick-witted US Marshall found himself playing house at the seized mansion of Charles Monroe, the dirty money washer for the local mob Raylan arrested in the previous episode.  He even has a companion: the lovely Allison, Loretta’s social worker.  Those two are playing so much bowling all over Monroe’s house: on the stairs, on tables.  Just bowling, bowling, bowling**.  Add in a few pants-less rump pats, and Raylan is essentially in heaven.

**Is it possible I don’t know what bowling is?

Unfortunately, domestic bliss does not seem likely for Raylan, as a bat-wielding thug with a shamrock tattoo shows up and tries to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with the alarm on one of Monroe’s cars.  Raylan does not like having his special private time interrupted, assumes the dude’s a not-so-subtle message from Monroe, and threatens him but good in typical Raylan fashion.  Ah, but there ’tis a twist!  Maybe the rump-patting, weed-smoking Allison isn’t quite so lovely afterall.  You see, it turns out that goon was really on the hunt for Allison.  After a very aggressive candygram from Raylan and a few gentle proddings with an aluminum bat, he learns that this guy thinks Allison planted meth during one of her visits in order to obtain cause to retrieve his son, Henry Jr, from the house.  Chick is hardcore!  Seriously, I’m worried about Raylan because if I found out someone I loved dabbled in meth-planting, I might question his or her moral code or something?  Then, again, he’s probably just distracted by all those rump pats.

However, the confusion over the identity of the goon does not stop at Raylan.  Turns out Monroe is a bit concerned because he’s keeping a ton of gold inside a secret safe in his house and worries that his lover/maid Gloria wants to steal from him.  In a truly tender sequence, Monroe proceeds to choke her to the brink of death before smothering her nearly to death with a pillow in order to get to the truth.  Ah, the sweet whimsy of #YoungLove!  Who says romance is dead?

In the continuing saga of Boyd Crowder, he’s on the hunt for the moron who ripped him off at the end of last episode.  And what do you know?  First suspect: Cyrus, he of the BB addict skeet shooting***.  Faster than you can say, “That’s not what Pop Rocks are for?” he gives up the identity of Candy, the lady of ill-repute he told about the incoming shipment.

***One of the best scenes of this show ever: Wyn Duffy shooting Cyrus with BBs as Boyd interrogates him.  I could not stop laughing because, hey, karma.  “Ear,” Duffy announces before landing a shot there.  I seriously hope this show can continue to find ways to insert BB guns and/or pellets into the upcoming plot lines because, quite frankly, I’m not ready to part ways with Cyrus.

Fun fact if ever vacationing in Harlan: Ava is apparently a human rolodex of local prostitutes, a skill that admittedly does not help her through many cocktail parties.  I can relate because I can name all six actors who have played James Bond—and in order, too.  Or is it seven actors?  Either way, I end up getting a lot of drinks thrown in my face due to my rolodexing skills, so I feel ya, A-dawg!  Fortunately for Boyd, there’s only one place Ava can be, what with the impending threat of a murder trial, so he moseys on by the big house and asks his bride-to-be if she has any knowledge of specialists who completely misread the instructions on the Pop Rocks package once upon a time.  I’m going to be honest, but Ava comes across as fairly grouchy in this scene.  Maybe she hasn’t been getting eight solid hours of shut eye?  Whatever the reason, she just wants to have a normal conversation with her future husband: for him to ask how she’s doing, for them to discuss Boyd nearly beating Paxton to death in his own living room, those sorts of things.  Communication, folks: it keeps the heart of every relationship beating.****  Still, despite her foul mood, she comes through for Boyd; Carl tracks her down, and it turns out Candy’s working for Cousin Johnny. #AwkwardFamilyReunion

****Worth mentioning: Ava’s lawyer could be the spokesperson for Beats headphones.  They really DO encase you in a sonic wall of music until everything else just fades away!

Given her recalcitrant assistance, I’m not sure how much Ava would appreciate Boyd’s clandestine tattoo-sharing session with the sexy Mara.  Under the auspices of identifying any distinguishing markings on Boyd’s body so they can mark up a corpse to fake his death and keep a very much alive Paxton off their backs, Mara demands Boyd disrobe.  This scene reminds me a great deal of that one from Jaws where they’re all gathered around, drinking and sharing their scars.  Well, it would if Brody were a reformed Nazi.  Or if Brody wanted to do lots of shirtless hugging with Hooper.  But still, very similar all things told.  Controversy warning: these two like each other as more than just friends and likely want to go bowling with each other ALL. NIGHT. LONG.  Mark my words.  Mark it, Dude!

Oh, Dewey Crowe, you magnificent bastard!  Seems like Cousin Darryl marathoned a season’s worth of HGTV on his trip to Kentucky because homeslice is very concerned about the curb appeal of Dewey’s brothel.  I’m no expert, but adding a few azaleas and a tasteful but inexpensive DIY trellis will probably not increase foot traffic.  If you’re serious about this Real Estate Consultant title, you’d best get it together, Darryl.  Still, he really thinks Boyd ripped  Dewey off when he sold him the place and thinks he owes him one…hundred thousand, that is!

Dewey confronts Boyd, who spins him around and tells him to chase Darryl out of town.  Time to step up and be a man, Dewey Crowe!  Ever the apple polisher, Dewey follows instructions, and Darryl finds his fancies very much tickled (not a euphemism) by the display of authority from his typically mild-mannered cousin.  Unfortunately, it seems like Darryl has not done a great deal of laundry in his time because he did a pretty poor job of explaining the drying process to Messer.  Just kidding!  Darryl straight up tortured Messer with a dryer until he confessed to skimming off the top in the name of none other than Boyd Crowder.  Classic Darryl!  Doesn’t look like our favorite Floridian tourist will be leaving Harlan any time soon.

This third episode continues the hot streak that Justified‘s been riding.  The overlapping and interwoven plot lines give the overall narrative a head-spinning complexity, and the dialogue remains as fresh and hilarious as ever.  Surprises keep getting fired at us one after another, and Justified knows that what keeps it in the upper echelon of the medium’s best is that it keeps them coming.


Harlan Chit-Chat

– Raylan: “Now here you are, all dinging and donging but don’t have the sense to ditch.”

– Boyd: “My colleague is apoplectic at the part you played in the loss of our product.  I, on the other hand, understand you must have been an unwitting accomplice because you ain’t stupid enough to think you could rip me off and remain on this side of the god**** planet!”

– Boyd: “Family can be the perfect salve in difficult times.”

– Duffy: “You’re protecting me from a situation you created?”

Raylan: “You could see it that way if you want to dwell on the negatives.”