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!

Justified S05E02: “The Kids Aren’t All Right”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “riding as high as Dewey Crowe”

If last week’s Justified found Raylan doing all he could to evade the responsibility of fatherhood, Tuesday night’s episode reminded us that it would still very much find him.  Our favorite US Deputy Marshall might not like it, but the truth came out: distancing himself from his biological daughter in Florida did not prevent his (metaphorically) adopted daughter from pulling him back into her orbit.

That’s right, Loretta’s back!

Now, I don’t want to get a reputation for being mean to kids or anything, but Loretta is a real rascal in this episode.  When Raylan finds out that a recent arrest for selling marijuana to a cop’s son has landed Loretta in jail, he takes offense at her bandying about his name as a sure-fire ticket for clemency.  Loretta’s all, “My b, Ray Ray.”  But for some reason, Raylan doesn’t completely believe her, which I honestly found surprising because she reminds me of a younger, female, drug-dealing version of George Washington.

To compound this, Raylan also bumps into Loretta’s boyfriend, a fine, upstanding young man named Derek.  And when I say fine, upstanding young man, I mean the kid’s a real turd sandwich.  Luckily, that smell is not unfamiliar to Raylan, so—ever the protective Papa—he decides to do what any dad would do when his precious baby girl brings home a loser: break them up but good.

Fortunately, it turns out not all is lost because Loretta’s social worker is a pretty thing named Allison (played by Amy Smart).  The two hit it off because that’s what happens when two attractive people meet on the steps outside a police station and share a common interest in a teenage drug dealer.

You see, it turns out Derek and Loretta have become embroiled in a bit of a quagmire with reputed Memphis drug kingpin Hot Rod Dunham.  Along with his most loyal of thugs, Dunham needs to track down a stolen package that Loretta and Derek ripped off and buried in a hole somewhere. 

When Raylan finds Derek, he’s sitting on his couch and getting a real thorough noogie from one of Dunham’s men.  Raylan finds this flummoxing because Derek doesn’t seem the kind of kid to relish the true joy of an honest-to-goodness noogie, so he breaks up the fratboy tomfoolery before encouraging Derek to break up with Loretta.

Not having received that message, Loretta shows up at the office and reports Derek missing.  On behalf of America, Raylan doesn’t really see a problem with this but eventually tracks him down anyway because the man will NOT turn down an opportunity to beat people with shovels and threaten to shoot them many times.  But this whole experience does more than quench Raylan’s insatiable bloodlust; he also learns a valuable lesson about being a dad: let your kids feel like they’re making their own decisions when they’re actually doing exactly what you want.

So Loretta breaks up with Derek and leaves him in an abandoned part of town.  Hope you have your pepper spray handy, Derek!

After negotiating a peace with Dunham, Raylan fulfills his fatherly duties for the night and invites Allison out for some bowling, if you know what I mean.***  Problem is, he can’t stop talking about his “kid.”  It’s Loretta this, Loretta that, Loretta, Loretta, Loretta.  It’s a real mood-killer tbh.

***No, but seriously.  They go bowling.  Raylan’s one smooth cat.

Aww, Raylan.  It seems like this season will keep the plot of his burgeoning fatherhood on the back burner; with several references to Raylan’s own father, I look forward to watching our favorite US Marshall negotiate the terrain of parenthood while also dealing with his own bruised childhood.

Meanwhile, life is not going so well for Boyd Crowder.  Remember when he broke into Lee Paxton’s house and seemed to beat him to death with a gun, then walked right out after threatening his wife and wiping gore off his chin?  Well, I know this will surprise you, but that did not turn out to be the best plan.

For one, Paxton’s still alive.  For another, a really creepy cop has a bit of Boyd stuck in his craw and finds himself hell-bent on bringing him down.  Paxton’s gorgeous foreign wife Mara at first seems to betray her promise to Boyd but, on a visit to the bar for the ostensible purpose of arrest, recants that.  Turns out she wants the money Boyd intended to spend bribing Ava’s judge to get herself back home.***

***Perhaps the most sexually charged blackmail ever committed to film occurred in the hospital stairwell between Boyd and Mara.  Bless my stars, that was steamy!

Now I didn’t want to befriend this cop or anything but then he showed his true colors after pulling Mara over on a backcountry road and yanking her out of her car by the hair.  I don’t want to jump to conclusions or anything, but it seems like this cop might not be the best guy in the world.  Hear me out!  He threatens to pin Paxton’s attack on Mara if she doesn’t re-recant her statement on Boyd.

As if this weren’t enough, Boyd and Winn Duffy hold a meeting of their drug distributors to let them know about the upcoming Canadian delivery.  An insightful young gentleman named Cyrus stands up and initiates his union president campaign by explaining the daily tribulations of a street level dealer.  Boyd breaks it down by creating an analogy between a dried up drug supply and poor cell phone reception, which I found really helpful because I have always wanted to know how a cell phone was like a drug supply.  #THEMOREYOUKNOW

Later, we see Cyrus shooting junkies with pellet guns, and I couldn’t help but wonder about his upbringing.  What happened to you, Cyrus?  I’m worried about you.  Do you want to talk about it?  Cyrus certainly doesn’t do himself any favors after that, letting the arrival of the upcoming Canadian shipment slip to some unfortunate-looking dame who completely misunderstands the true intentions of Pop Rocks.

Perhaps inevitably, Boyd’s shipment gets ambushed, and–this might also surprise you–he is not terribly excited to learn that.  Might as well get your junkie shooting in while you still can, Cyrus! It’s not looking great for you!  Boyd might seem a less traditional daddy than Raylan, but something tells me he won’t take kindly to you messing with his baby!

Elsewhere, Art looks into the deaths of Sammy Tonin and Nicky Augustine, Ava languishes in jail, and Cousin Darryl arrives at Dewey’s place of business.

While I can’t quite place my finger on where this is all headed or how it will inevitably intersect, Justified is in top form right now, moving its myriad chess pieces into position and delighting in watching the players squirm.


Harlan Chit-Chat

– Boyd: “That depends on your definition of friend.  He’s a nice enough fellow, but I wouldn’t ask to borrow his corduroy jacket.”

– Raylan [after drawing his gun]: “Don’t make me do the paperwork.”

– Raylan: “My general rule is: you keep talking, I put you in the trunk.”

– Raylan: “Derek, I got a loaded gun.  Get out of my car.”

– Dewey: “I gotta tell you right now, there’s not a man on earth riding as high as Dewey Crowe!”  (All the LOL at this one.)

Parenthood S05E12: “Stay a Little Longer”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “getting to a save.”

Of all the television families populating our screens right now, none of them seem to come alive quite like the Bravermans.  Due in large part to the mind-blowingly talented cast, each character truly feels like a personal relative.  In my experience, this is one of the fastest-moving hours of television—despite that fact that there haven’t been (to my recollection) any car chases or shootouts to intensify the proceedings**—because of our deep investment with each character on this show.

**Though, to be fair, any time a spontaneous Braverman family dance party breaks out, that’s bound to get your pulse racing.

For this reason, I thought I’d approach my review and recap of Parenthood a little differently.  I’m going break it up into discreet chunks, focusing in on the characters one section at a time.

This episode featured all manners of heartbreak but was also delightful and funny?  Parenthood, you crazy!  Let’s get to it!

Crosby & Jasmine

If ever there were a collision of two characters in desperate need of its own spin-off episode it’s Jabbar and Oliver Rome.  Who wouldn’t love to see these two bonding over video games and ruminating on the very meaning of life?  Seriously, I loved this plot so much, right from the moment Oliver waltzes into Crosby’s living room and greets Jasmine as “Mrs. Crosby” and Jabbar as “Spawn of Crosby.”  He needs a place to stay while working through his most recent spat with his band?  Sure!  Welcome to Casa de Crosby.  Let the comic gold ensue!

What I appreciated the most here was that what could have come across as little more than a recycled sitcom trope (a la The Odd Couple) managed to paint the insufferable lead singer of Ashes of Rome in a new light.  He marvels at the inspiring wonders of family dinners!  He shows Jabbar Jaws well after his bedtime!  He sings melancholy jingles to decorative knick-knacks! (#MrStarfish) But really, he’s just a guy searching for more.

Having Jasmine—initially irate over Oliver’s intrusion and none too shy about conveying it—as the person to coax Oliver into discussing his artistic insecurities did wonders for both characters.  Chief amongst them, it reminded me that Jasmine is not a petulant, soul-sucking succubus hell-bent on pushing mini-van agendas.  She is an intelligent and kind person with things to say!  Nice to see you again, Jasmine!  I’ve missed you!  And that Oliver emerges as a more complex character will certainly serve the goings-on at the Luncheonette moving forward.

Plus, he writes a song to Jasmine for her words of wisdom!  Best!  Houseguest!  Ever!

Julia & Joel

Meanwhile, on a branch of the Braverman family tree without so much as a nervous giggle in earshot, the Julia and Joel saga reached its breaking point.  I’ll be honest, this hasn’t been my favorite storyline for these characters (though Sam Jaeger and Erika Christensen are doing amazing work).  The flirtatious temptation Julia shared with Ed seems too reminiscent of ground already covered with Adam and his assistant, and Joel is becoming an insufferable character with a blind martyr complex***.  The one-eighty that happened seems too abrupt and, in some regards, unearned.

***When he spits out to Julia that he doesn’t think their marriage worth saving and that his kids (adopted son Victor and uber-brat Sydney) might be the only thing keeping him in it, I physically cringed.  It’s exactly the sort of horrible thing one spouse might throw at the other in the midst of a heated argument without meaning it.  But its realism aside, I didn’t care for it.  No sir, not one bit.

Having said that, the scene in which Julia finally shares her struggles with Joel requires some heavy lifting on the parts of these two fine actors, and they pull it off amazingly.  The scene plays so real, from Julia’s insistence that the kiss “meant nothing” for her to Joel’s classification of her relationship as an “emotional affair,” that watching these two work made my previous ambivalence almost a non-issue.  Powerful stuff: real, raw, and painful.

With this once-enviable couple seemingly headed for a separation, I can’t help but feel all the feels.  Say it ain’t so!

Max & Adam

There are few certainties in life: the sun will rise, the sun will set, I will never not put potato chips on my sandwiches, and any story involving Max Braverman will reduce me to tears.  This week, Adam and Kristina learn that Max had a falling out with his one and only friend, the wheelchair-bound Micah.

Max initially tells Adam that Micah might be holding a grudge after he called his interest in basketball (and then wheelchair basketball) stupid.  At Adam’s encouragement, Max finds Micah at the gym, apologizes, and invites him to a pro basketball game.  Micah, surrounded by his new friends, declines the invite while his new buddy, possessed of truly Shakespearean wit, mocks Max for his insistence that there will be nachos at the game.

Hear that?  It’s the sound of my heart shattering.

I loved that we focused on how Adam (and not, as we might expect, Kristina) struggles with this because it yet again highlights Adam’s powerlessness.  Max’s Aspberger’s diagnosis.  Kristina’s cancer.  Kristina’a mayoral defeat.  And now, Max’s (somewhat inevitable) social isolation****.

****Middle school is the worst….

This most recent in a string of events completely beyond his control simply reminds us what a powerful internal struggle Adam faces.  He cannot fix that which means the most to him: his family.  Although he grapples with calling Micah’s parents, Adam dismisses it, walking the fine line between protecting and overprotecting, a balancing act all parents must negotiate.  And the fear and anxiety, powerfully rendered by the criminally underappreciated Peter Krause, ultimately lead Adam to what he can control: being a present father for his son when he needs him the most.

That this episode also features Ryan re-enlisting but not before sharing a tearful goodbye with Amber (at Zeek’s insistence), as well as Sarah and Hank embarking on a joint photography project together (YES!) is yet another reason why Parenthood is one of television’s best series.  This episode ran the gamut from the hilarious to the bruising to the poignant inside forty-four minutes, and not a moment of it rang false.

Is it Thursday yet?


Conversation Around the Dinner Table

– Oliver: “We’re breaking bread together.”

Jabbar: “Yeah, it’s gluten free!”

– Ryan: “Thank you, Zeek.  Thank you so much.  You’ve done so much for me.”

– Hank: “Careful with your game show host neighbor!”

– Max: “He has new friends that play basketball, and they think I’m weird.”

Downton Abbey S04E03: “Episode 3”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “living in the twentieth century.”

Well, that happened!

I suppose it was only a matter of time before misery reintroduced itself to the lovely Mrs. Anna Bates.  For such a lovable, kind, and genuine character, she seems to find herself in one horrible situation after another.   But having her wallow in fear and doubt while awaiting news on her husband’s bogus murder charge was one thing; subjecting her to a brutal rape at the hands of Lord Gillingham’s servant is quite another**.

**Call me old-fashioned, but I hate it when a show uses an assault against a woman as the basis for plot.  Still, I have to admit the sequence’s staging, with the blissful family and staff of Downton gathered for a private concert upstairs, was chilling. 

For all its attention to period details and nuance of character, Downton Abbey is no stranger to melodrama, but this felt over-the-top even by those standards, a sure-fire method to shock and accomplish little else.  Having said that, I’m interested in where Fellowes and company will take this plot and hope it steers away from the overwrought predictability that such an event can elicit in a television series.  I am also going on the record in support of a Bates/Taken crossover when he inevitably gets the truth out of Mrs. Hughes or Anna or both.  Because, let’s be honest: Bates will find him, and he will kill him.  Let’s initiate the Kickstarter campaign!

Now that we have that soul-crushing development out of the way, let’s move on, shall we?  Because, with the exception of Anna’s attack, the remainder of this third episode brimmed with interesting character flourishes and biting humor, two staples of a quality Downton installment.

When the episode begins, the Downton estate is abuzz with activity as the Crawleys prepare to host a house party for a number of guests, including the Gillinghams, a card shark named Samson, and some dude named Bullock that keeps having his name bandied about but might not actually exist.  The influx of visitors brings an optimistic sort of chaos to the abbey, with the downstairs staff receiving newcomers as well (including the creepy Gillingham who immediately set his sights on Anna).

While even Lady Mary joins in the fun, poor Branson flounders in this world.  The former chauffeur has never felt completely at ease with the upper-crust customs that went along with his marriage to Sibyl and now, without her, he’s even more adrift.  His idea of small talk with a Duchess includes riveting conversations on barley production.  Whoa there, buddy!  Save some excitement for your second meeting, would you?   What’s more, his critical misunderstanding of the social expectations during such a gathering leads Branson to make a critical faux pas, referring to the Duchess as Your Grace.***

***While the Dowager’s correction of Branson is priceless and features hilarious jabs at the British upper class, the best part of this sequence has to be Carson, in the 1920s version of a photobomb, scowling at Branson from the background.  His look of utter disgust epitomizes everything that is so wonderful about the head butler.

Despite a surprisingly touching admission from Robert that he belongs to this world, Branson still struggles. Naturally, Edna (ugh) bumps into Branson at his lowest point, bringing him Scotch, come-hither glances, and perhaps a misinterpreted midnight booty call?  I don’t want to get confrontational, but I hope the next time Jimmy throws a jar in the air to show off for Ivy or Daisy, it lands on Edna’s head.

Meanwhile, Mary finds herself clicking with Lord Gillingham (not to be confused with Gillingham the Rapist), a familiar figure from her childhood who’s grown up positively bursting with smolder.  I found it interesting that Mary seems to grow more attached to him after he mentions being “close to marriage,” as if that somehow makes it safer to befriend this man and less of a betrayal of Matthew.  The Lady Mary even invites Gillingham to accompany her on a horseback ride, claiming she is (BLATANT METAPHOR WARNING) ready to get back in the saddle.  You see what she did there?

Naturally, Rose has to ruin everything by breaking out the gramophone, pumping the volume up to eleven and getting some booties out on the dance floor to the well-mannered equivalent of “Get Lucky.”  Mary accepts Gillingham’s invitation to dance, but quickly flees when she realizes the gramophone in question belonged to Matthew.  Feeling perhaps deceitful or guilty for her happiness (or perhaps both), she leaves Gillingham to do the worm by himself.

Elsewhere, Edith and Mr. Gregson face successive brush-offs from Robert.  He declines an invitation to walk with them, cuts short a captivating discussion on his extensive library, and even—most egregiously—refuses to laugh at Gregson’s “poker face” pun!  In the middle of a poker game!  What else does a brother have to do to get some respect?****

****As it turns out, the answer is simple: swindle Samson, the card shark who’s been swindling the male guests at Downton.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy!  You go Gregson!  Your love is still likely doomed, but celebrate the victories as they come!

 It’s time for #MoseleyWatch!  For the second consecutive week, he stole the show for me.  After Jimmy sprains his wrist with all the grace of a tranquilized elephant, a desperate Carson seeks out Moseley to replace him as footman.  Beggars unable to choose, Moseley accepts the lowly position but about has a stroke when Carson holds up a pair of white gloves.  OH THE HUMANITY!!!!

Moseley’s reversing career serves as a great metaphor for the many references to the perpetual forward march of modernity in this episode; after all, the rigidity of the class divisions and traditions that define Downton must inevitably backslide to accommodate the changing times.  Change, both personal and historical, is afoot!

Amidst all this, Mrs. Patmore has an anxiety attack over vegetables and sauces (but, unfortunately, not over a new kitchen appliance) while Dr. Clarkson and Isobel Crawley continue to be #Adorbs.  Oh, and Alfred wants to be Downton’s version of Gordon Ramsay, minus the screaming but very much plus the beanpole gawkiness.

In the end, apart from an abruptly dark and violent shift in the narrative during the episode’s closing minutes, there is a great deal to adore here, and adore it I did!  I’m not sold on the direction of Anna’s plot yet, but if I learned one thing from watching Downton Abbey, it’s this: the show’s at its most compelling when its goings-on are fraught with discontent.

Until next weekend, Downtonites!

Snippets of Intrigue

– Moseley: “I have no pride left.” [Holds up gloves.]

– Moseley: “I’ve done my career backwards.”

– Robert [to Carson]: “Why?  Do you fear the corrupting influence of opera?”

– Mrs. Patmore calling Jimmy “Mr. Clever Clogs” LOL!

– The Dowager Countess: “If I were to search for logic, I should not look for it among the British upper class.”

– The Dowager Countess: “Tom’s small talk is very small indeed.”

Robert: “Not everyone can be Oscar Wilde.”

The Dowager Countess: “Well, that’s a relief.”

A Few Thoughts on Golden Globes

I love the Golden Globes. While the Academy Awards certainly draw the most clout, they often feel over-bloated and pretentious. But when it comes to the Globes, with its round family-style seating and open bar full of free-flowing booze**, the celebrities on hand seem more relaxed and willing to have a good time. Even the order of the ceremonies seems abuzz with intoxication, am I right? You never know what’s coming next!

**Was it just me, or did Mr. Ben Affleck appear to have enjoyed the open bar a little too much last night? Watching him stumble on stage and slur his way through the Best Directors category, I half-expected him to rip his suit off and reveal a toga underneath. Get it together, Batman!

What I really appreciate about the Golden Globes is that they are the antithesis of the Emmys. While the latter is so entrenched in tradition (and seems to delight in rewarding the same show or performer year after year), the Globes love to honor the fresh meat. I mean, I love it and all, but is Brooklyn Nine-Nine the Best Comedy on television? Definitely not. But who even cares because you can’t help but get excited for the new guy! Good for you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine!

But this interest in “new and improved” stands in exact contrast to the show’s somewhat archaic categorization. Films are much more complex these days, often spanning diverse genres within a single running time, so attempting to classify them across definitive lines is problematic at best. Last night, American Hustle took home the trophy for Best Film – Musical or Comedy. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film (and certainly one of the year’s best), but a comedy? I laughed a few times, but the film’s conceit about the atrophy of the American dream was hardly a laugh riot.***

***Though, all things being relative, it is a funnier film than, say, 12 Years a Slave, so there’s that, I suppose.

When it comes to television, the most frustratingly antiquated categories are Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. For an awards ceremony that really distinguishes itself for drawing distinctions between Drama and Comedy (how Musical is lumped in there I’ll never know, but you know what they say about Les Mis: it’s a real pisser), I don’t understand the smorgasbord that makes up these groups of performers. So, while I find myself enjoying the Globes year after year, the outcome of these awards in particular continues to frustrate me, and this year proved no exception.

Best Supporting Actor

Won: Jon Voight, Ray Donavan

Should have won: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad or Josh Charles, The Good Wife

Where to begin? First off, let me admit that I only made it through the first three episodes of Ray Donavan before I bailed. The show felt like that one kid in high school who put on a great show of swagger but cried that one time you flicked him behind the ear in the lunch line. For all its bravado and supposed grittiness, the whole thing felt so false. I didn’t buy it for a second, any of it.

And least of all did I buy Jon Voight’s turn as Ray’s estranged father. When he wasn’t cavorting around in his unmentionables or attempting an unintentionally hilarious Boston accent, I found Voight utterly repugnant. And I don’t mean the character; I mean the actor, the man. There’s no performance here, just unadulterated Jon Voight in all his creepy glory. No thanks.

Meanwhile, Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman underwent an epic redemptive arc in Breaking Bad’s final season. And I’m not sure about you, but for me his meltdown in the car as he watched Todd remove his last thread of humanity (you know what I mean) will haunt me forever.  Award deserved there alone.

Josh Charles is also doing killer work on The Good Wife these days. His desk-clearing explosion at Alicia was one of my favorite scenes of 2013, and the subsequent feelings of betrayal and abandonment have deepened Will Gardner, enriched an already deep character. Charles continues to balance the hurt, anger, and frat-boy pettiness perfectly.

Both of these excellent actors more than deserved it.  But instead, Voight took home the gold, Hollywood’s version of the creepy, leering uncle that keeps showing up to family reunions even though you stopped sending the invite. Ugh.

Best Supporting Actress

Won: Jacqueline Bisset, Dancing on the Edge

Should have won: Monica Potter, Parenthood

I haven’t seen the miniseries for which Bisset received her nomination and win (has anybody?), so I can’t comment on her performance. Look, she’s been around for ages and has done great work for so long, I can’t slight the woman for winning the prize. But this feels like a token honor rather than a deserved one to me.

What exactly does Monica Potter, or—for that matter—Parenthood itself need to do to get some awards recognition? It’s one of the very best written, acted, and produced shows on television, delving into the complexities of growing up, growing apart, and growing together as a family. It’s about how family defines us and challenges us, how it supports us and tests us. It’s funny, touching, and beautiful. You’re also guaranteed at least one choke-up an episode, money back guarantee.

You’d think that, if nothing else, Potter’s Kristina Braverman battling cancer would attract the interest of voters. But alas, she headed home empty-handed. Perhaps it’s because she handled the plotline so meticulously, without a shred of the maudlin melodrama that typically defines such plot machinations. Her Kristina Braverman was tenacious, terrified, optimistic, defeated, elated, despondent. We felt every iota of emotion. This was a towering, triumphant performance that very easily could have been predictable and bland.  I dare you to watch the video she made for her family and not shed a tear.

My biggest fear? If this didn’t get her props, then nothing will.  And that’s a real shame.


Still, not everything was so bad. Amy Poehler won for her turn as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation! Elizabeth Moss won for Top of the Lake! Brian Cranston got some more love for Mr. White, while Breaking Bad also took the trophy for Best Drama!

Plus, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were adorable and hilarious and everything that is right about the Golden Globes. If keeping them around means wallowing in tradition, then so be it. Until next year!

Community S05E03: “Basic Intergluteal Numismatics”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “platonic shoulder holding.”

When it comes to Community, high-concept parody episodes remain a staple of the (original) Harmon era, with favorites like “Pillows & Blankets” toppling Ken Burns documentaries, “Contemporary American Poultry” satirizing gangster films, and “Basic Lupine Urology” taking on Law and Order. If Harmon means to reestablish his reign, it makes sense for him to dip his toe back in this proverbial pool so early on.

This time around, he set his targets on a genre of film and TV that’s reached a level of mind-boggling oversaturation: the serial-killer thriller. Shows such as The Bridge, The Following, and The Killing, as well as David Fincher films (most notably Seven and Zodiac), provide the bulk of the inspiration. But Greendale wouldn’t find itself pitted against an actual serial killer. That would be preposterous! What’s not preposterous? Devising a ruthless baddie who deposits quarters into the most devastating of slots!

Enter The Ass Crack Bandit.

From the re-imaged credits to the driving rain, I immediately loved the tone here. That Harmon shot the thing through a filter to mimic the aesthetic of the genre made me laugh out loud; the attention to detail truly elevates Harmon’s parodies. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the guy can stretch butt jokes to their breaking point.

The first victim is Garrett, stooped over with his posterior doing an excellent plumber impression. Before long, he’s plucking a quarter out of his Hanes His Ways, and Dean Pelton calls the obligatory press conference. Incessant flashing cameras prompt an incredulous reaction from Pelton (perfect), but the framing of this sequence is even better. We can see the Dean in front of the E. Pluribus Anus sign, with only the latter word showing in the camera’s shot behind him. Nice touch!

Another staple of this genre is the male-female investigative duo and the thinly veiled tension between them, so putting Annie and Jeff front and center as the lead detectives served their characters nicely. I’m glad Community addressed their chemistry again, even if it found Jeff falling into old patterns and continuing to dismiss it. With Professor Hickey and a returned Professor Duncan assisting the study group, they attempt to uncover the ACB’s motive. In a sequence that comments on the vague rationales the killers in such shows adopt, Britta can’t tell if he likes money or hates it, if he wants to challenge Greendale for letting its values slide, or if he hates banks.

Soon after, I’m sorry to say that Troy falls victim to this maniac, duped by an adorable teddy bear he bends over to retrieve**. For the rest of the episode, Donald Glover does an amazing job playing the shell-shocked victim, as Abed continues to cover him with a blanket and push him around in a wheelchair. The Greendale community responds to Troy’s cracking by donning “Not This Crack” t-shirts and attending survivor support meetings in the cafeteria.

**It turns out, the Bandit had inserted a rolled-up note into the bear’s tuckus, which is honestly something I did not see coming. It turns out the Bandit’s notes are cobbled from Dave Matthews lyrics. Or just Dave for the true fan.

Detectives Winger and Edison, meanwhile, prove themselves reckless cops playing by their own set of rules when they destroy a greenhouse and intimidate the wrong suspect.  Dean Pelton suspends Annie because that’s what happens in these shows! And Jeff becomes the head coach of the water polo team because Pelton is the assistant coach and wants to see him in a bathing suit! The brass really gets in the way of detectives closing cases, am I right?

A call from the Bandit interrupts the reprimanding. Though Rhonda can’t decipher Pelton’s snapping (it means trace the call, for future reference), the extension number indicates the call coming from the stables (Greendale has stables?). Once there, the three find Starburns, very much alive but completely nuts.***

***His cat car infomercial could have used an assist from Abed Nadir in my opinion.

Dean Pelton sets Starburns to take the fall (someone needs to make a .GIF of Troy standing up from his wheelchair and slapping Starburns across the face because that made my week), but at the “We Took Down the Bandit” after-party, he can’t identify “Ants Marching.” Jeff realizes that Starburns might be three quarters short of a full dollar, but he can’t possibly be the Bandit.


Meanwhile, Annie visits Professor Duncan to thank him for his help, and he hears the same song. To Annie’s dismay, he confesses his love for Dave, as well as his use of the British version of Facebook, called Mug Scroll, which I’m surprised she didn’t find equally disturbing. What’s more, when Annie drops her keys, he asks if she means to pick them up. Allison Brie proved her adeptness with physical comedy as she uses her legs to flick the keys up the wall rather than bend over. Hilarious.

But just when we have this enigmatic puzzle figured out, Duncan himself is cracked in the confusion of the party. Jeff attempts to chase the mystery Bandit down, but Shirley stops to tell him Pierce has died.

*Insert dramatic brake squeal* Huh?

While I don’t have an issue with them killing off Pierce per se, this didn’t feel like the right episode in which to do it. It came out of nowhere and, for me, disrupted the expertly drawn world of parody we immersed ourselves in for the previous twenty minutes. Rather than emerging as an organic development of the narrative, news of Pierce’s death felt like an after-thought, likely a way to affect the episodes to follow. Regardless, rest in peace, Pierce Hawthorne, you kooky curmudgeon you.

Fortunately, the show rebounded with that glorious Homicide: Life on the Street style montage. With Annie having declared that he or she is still out there (of course!), we had the opportunity to check in with our characters: Abed clearing his DVR of his crime shows, Britta settling down to write a report on the Bandit, a lunch lady looking paranoid, Shirley selling “Cracked But Not Broken” t-shirts, and Dean Pelton playing quarters with Rhonda.

Quarters with Rhonda. It’s totally Rhonda!

In the end, despite its awkwardly placed plot development in the final minutes, this episode of Community continued the show’s hot streak. Until next week, be careful out there, and remember the three Bs: Belts, Briefs, and Buddies.



Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

– Shirley [after listening to a Bandit note]: “He should be called the Run-On Sentence Bandit.”

– Dean Pelton: “This is the biggest PR crisis to hit Greendale since we held that really for the wrong Korea!”

– Dean Pelton: “You wanna make trouble? Go to Parker Brothers!”

– Jeff [on his affinity for Dave]: “Oh, excuse me for being alive during the nineties and having two ears connected to a heart.”

Top Chef S11E13: “Oui Si A Challenge”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “having a box to think in.”

Having already been swept up in last week’s #KnifeGate2014 scandal with Carlos, I’m not sure Nick’s image needed any more eroding.  But alas, that’s just what we were treated to last night.  Clearly unable to let go of cutlery-based grudges, Nick opened the episode by slamming Carlos as being trapped inside a Mexican box.  This guy really has it out for Carlos, as well as boxes.

Padma welcomed Jacques Pepin into the Top Chef Kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut).  He’s exactly like your grandfather, if your grandfather were a world-renowned French chef incapable of hiding the disappointment etched in his face when you inevitably let him down.  In addition to introducing the Quickfire (watching him make and then recreating his favorite dish of Dover sole, asparagus, and artichoke), Pepin’s presence spoke to a troubling Top Chef motif: subtitling people with thick accents but whose English is perfectly decipherable.  I can understand you, sir!

The chefs gathered around to watch Chef Pepin create the dish but, more important, make them all feel horrible about themselves, capping off his demonstration by making a completely necessary butter floret.  He then invited the cheftestants to stick their fingers into his dish, which I frankly found a bit forward.

Unfortunately, Nick ended up winning the Quickfire and earned immunity because apparently he made a deal with the Devil and cannot be kicked off the show even though he consistently disappoints.

Padma brought us all back to reality by donning her professor sweater and delivering pretty much the most insightful history lecture I’ve ever heard: the French and Spanish had lots of influence in New Orleans.  Their Elimination Challenge (insert aggressive smash cut) found our chef splitting into teams to utilize a series of five ingredients common to both French and Spanish.  Team Spanish was Brian, Nina, and Carlos under the tutelage of Julian Serrano; Team French was Shirley, Nick, and Stephanie.  While Stephanie conceded that this challenge put her completely out of her comfort zone, Shirley and Nick made a big deal about destiny and the arrangement of the constellations because they’ve been classically trained in French cuisine and are on Team French, guided by one Dominque Crenn.  That was the exact moment I knew their team would explode in a fireball of culinary disaster.

As each team met with their respective coaches, it seemed like Nick really wanted us to have even greater disdain for him.  I mean, what else would explain his decision to make a chocolate Cornish game hen with a cornsilk bird’s next cradling some sort of frou-frou egg salad?  On behalf of viewers across America, Stephanie called it “loopy.”  Sing it, sister!

Teams French and Spanish went to Whole Foods, and Nina temporarily misplaced Chef Serrano, but everything ended up fine.  Shirley and Stephanie found Chef Crenn attractive while Brian thought Chef Serrano a delightful micromanager.

When it came to service, Carlos represented Team Spanish (describing dishes in his native tongue and infuriating Nick, which of course tickled my fancy) and Nick spearheaded Team French.  Team Spanish ended up winning, so we’ll skip them.

Over at Team French, Shirley made olive oil ice cream and paired it with some fish, which sounded positively disturbing but she’s adorable, so she gets a pass.  Stephanie made a mussel dish that Tom called complex but some other dude declared gritty.

But then the moment we’d been waiting for: Nick’s dish.

Chef Serrano gazed at Nick’s plate as if asked to consume the flesh of a live hamster.  He pretty much said it’s everything wrong with the direction of modern cuisine.  Chef Crenn didn’t like that smack talk about her student, so she tried to defend it half-heartedly.  Serrano scoffed, and the two seemed geared up for a cage fight.  Tom compared the cornsilk bird’s nest to hair pulled from a drain, an apt description if ever there were one.

At Judge’s Table (insert aggressive smash cut), things got intense, although in all honesty I can not tell you exactly what happened because I found myself completely distracted by the paisley wonders of Chef Pepin’s bowtie.  It looked like a page out of one of those Magic Eye books.

The Judges handed Nina the win for creating a simple but gorgeously crafted dish of elevated potato salad that Jacques Pepin called “elegant.”  Well, excuse me!  You go, girl!

With good news dispensed, in came Team French, and the judges shamed Nick for his abysmal, pretentious plate.  Judge Pepin kindly invited him to withdraw from the competition, which would have been the honorable thing to do since he was the single reason his team lost.  But Nick is Nick, and he crossed his arms and shook his head and said, “Nah.  I got this.”

So Stephanie packed her knives and left.  She even gave Nick a parting hug despite her disgust, which I suppose he preferred to a knee to the genitals, which he deserved much, much more.


From the Pass

– Shirley [making ice cream and struggling with liquid nitrogen]: “I don’t want to be the first person on Top Chef to lose part of an ear.”

Justified S05E01: “A Murder of Crowes”

…an episode reminding us the importance of telling the difference between 300 and 300,000 dollars

I’m just going to come out and say it: Justified is one of the best series on television and certainly the most underrated.  After that terrific premiere, promising an outstanding string of episodes to follow, I’m salivating for what will come next.  And that has a great deal to do with one Harlan family coming to the narrative foreground: the Crowes.

For US Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens (I just love typing that), Dewey Crowe has been that piece of gum stuck to the bottom of his cowboy boot.  No matter how hard he tries, he can never quite scrape it—or him—off, as Dewey’s livelihood is very much a part of the criminal element of Harlan County with which Raylan clashes.  That opening court scene, with Dewey seeking reparations for his years of torment at Givens’s hand, treated long-time fans to the often-hilarious ways Raylan tormented this moron over the years. **

**My personal favorite, and the incident that seems to scar Dewey the most, involves an elaborate ruse that had him convinced Raylan had excised his kidneys and sold them on the black market.  Though as Raylan quips: “I’d like to point out he thought he had four kidneys.”  The show’s trademark rapid-fire dialogue (flying as fast and furious as the bullets) and deadpan humor were spot on here.

Needless to say, Dewey ended up clearing $300,000 in the settlement, quite a considerable mark-up from what he initially thought a $300 one.  This guy!

But it became quite clear early on that Dewey would function as a gateway into the rest of the colorful Crowe clan.  It seems that down in Florida, brothers Dilly, Danny, and Darryl (alliteration at its best) had a sweet thing going with a Cuban national named Machado and a corrupt Coast Guard officer named Simon Lee: the smuggling of illegal, cheap sugar.  Unfortunately, Lee wants out and Dilly (whom Raylan considers the dimmest of the bunch—yikes) can’t stand him mocking his stutter, so he shoots him, forcing Machado to finish the job.

This attracts the attention of the US Marshall’s office.  Raylan’s intimate knowledge of the Crowes makes him a perfect candidate for the job, so Art sends him on his way, pairing him with a traveling companion named Greg Sutter (David Koechner, delivering a great performance and never once saying “Whammy!”).  But before heading to the Sunshine State, Raylan visits Dewey at the local house of ill-repute, interrupting a bizarrely nude game of Marco Polo.  His hope is that Dewey can give him some information, but he refuses, so Raylan’s parting gift is plugging his above-ground pool with two bullets and walking away as it collapses in on itself, spraying jets of water.  Raylan is the COOLEST.

Down South, Dewey’s cousin Darryl (Michael Rapaport) is the self-appointed patriarch of the Crowe dynasty.  Apparently, his dying father’s request was for Darryl to step up and protect his family at all costs, a charge he’s taken to heart.  When Dilly and Machado show up with Lee’s corpse, it forces the eldest Crowe son to take steps in order to live up to his promise to dear old dad.  Through his paralegal sister Wendy (Alicia Witt***), Darryl brokers a deal and offers to pin everything on Machado to avoid bringing heat on the Crowes.

***An amazing roster of guest stars here, as well as Stephen Root, Matt Craven, and Max Perlich reprising their roles.  Speaking of which, Perlich’s sleazy Sammy Tonin had one of the most unceremonious deaths I’ve seen on this show, perfectly befitting such a sniveling character.

Needless to say, amidst double-crosses and fake-outs, Machado catches wind of the plan to turn him in and tries to flee for Cuba.  Raylan puts a few holes in his dinghy before adding a few more to Machado’s chest.  Life lesson: do not mess with Raylan Givens.  He will always win.  Also, Raylan hates inflatables?

Despite this compelling and labyrinthine plot, what really resonated with me in this episode was the way it treated the Crowes as more than just buffoonish criminals, which, of course, they are.  In many ways, this fifth season of Justified already feels reminiscent of the outstanding second season.  And, trust me, I mean that as the highest of compliments. Like the Bennetts, the Crowes are, if nothing else, tight-knit , a distorted vision of familial love gone criminally awry.  But everything Darryl does (including having Danny kill Dilly) is in service of keeping his family together.  Contrasting beautifully with this is Raylan; Winona and his daughter live in West Palm Beach and, as Sutter continues to remind him, they’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away.  Unlike Darryl, Raylan makes up every excuse he can to avoid his family, unable to accept his role as a father (the shrink in me would say it’s likely due to some lingering issues with his own not-so-dearly departed pops, but what do I know?).  There’s got to be a happy medium between devolving into criminal behavior and complete avoidance when it comes to our families and as the episode closes, perhaps Raylan’s found a temporary fix: Skype from the comfort of his office.  It’s a great scene to cap off an episode that is, in many ways, about the responsibilities to and insecurities caused by our families.

Speaking of family responsibility gone terribly wrong, how about Boyd Crowder?  When he’s not tracking down Canadian thugs in Detroit with Wynn Duffy****, he’s on the war-path to clear Ava of a pesky murder charge.  What a great fiancee!

**** The chronicles of these two road-tripping to Detroit is a great idea for a spin-off.  FX take note!

 This might surprise you, but reformed skin head and Harlan County drug kingpin Boyd Crowder does not do a great job controlling his emotions.  After failing to find a way to intimidate Judge Bishop, who’s been placed in charge of Ava’s case, he returns to the homestead of Lee Paxton, the arrogant upper-cruster who belittled Boyd’s “white trash” attempts to better himself earlier in the show’s run.  It turns out that making Boyd beg for assistance and then withdrawing the offer is great for a laugh but an even greater excuse for Boyd to bludgeon Paxton to death in his own living room! Win-win!  There are not enough superlatives in the world to hurl at Walton Goggin’s performance as Boyd.  He deserves all of the Emmys.

Justified’s dark, violent, funny, and biting take on the distortion of American families looks like it’ll be great fodder for this upcoming season.  And with Darryl headed north after catching wind of cousin Dewey’s settlement, the Crowes look to prove what we already know: we’re all stuck with the families we got.


Harlan Chit-Chat

– Raylan [on the Crowes]: “I just figured they’d all be locked up or dead by now.”

– Canadian Thug #1: “If you want, to keep it simple, we can add you and Mr. Eyebrows to the list.”

Boyd: “And I thought all Canadians were supposed to be nice.”

Canadian Thug #2: “Wrong Canadians.”

– Wynn Duffy: “We’re through doing business with you people.  The idea behind organized crime is that it’s supposed to be organized.”