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.”

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.”

Downton Abbey S04E01 & S04E2: “Episode 1” & “Episode 2”

an episode reminding us all the importance of “joining the living”

And we’re back folks!  Sunday night’s two-hour return to the Grantham stomping grounds had a veritable sampling of everything we love and expect from this ridiculously entertaining series.  After all, what other show on television can turn the introduction of a kitchen mixer into an existential crisis (poor Mrs. Patmore) or an accusation of foiling the morning egg order into legit fighting words (Thomas, you sly dog)?

Let’s just get on with all the glorious melodrama, shall we?

First off, let’s start with the bad news.  I hate to have to be the one to tell you, but it looks like your letter-writing campaign to Dan Stevens, threatening him to rejoin the Downton family, did not pay off.  The fourth season did not begin with The Dowager Countess dabbling in the dark arts and dripping snake blood across Matthew Crawley’s dead body, reciting necromancy incantations.  A miraculous resurrection was not in the cards, but Matthew is still very much ingrained in and a part of the goings-on at Downton Abbey.

Season four opens on a symbolically dismal day in February 1922.   It’s been six months since her husband’s burial, and Mary’s grief lingers unabated.  She cannot see past it and is unable to be the mother she should, passing off her son George, heir apparent to the Downton estate, to the seemingly delightful Nanny West**.

**Apparently, she REALLY hates poor people.  Lady Cora overheard her calling baby Sibyl a “half-breed” and didn’t take kindly to that kind of thing, suggesting she pack up her toothbrush and hit the bricks.  I don’t want to get up on my soapbox or anything, but being a hateful bigot does not seem to be the best way to maintain gainful employment.  There, I said it.  Let the controversy begin.

In many ways, I found Julian Fellowes’s treatment of Mary’s grief fairly superficial; she laments that Matthew saw the good in her and wonders now (in his absence) if she can ever be again, she snaps at Carson for over-stepping his bounds when offering advice, and she mislabels George an orphan.  I mean, yes, we get it; she’s sad, angry, lonely, and vulnerable, but I didn’t learn anything new about Mary as a character.  Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for this plot strand’s resolution, as Carson (it had to be Carson) helps Mary confront and take baby steps toward overcoming her grief.  At Branson’s behest, she’s picking up Matthew’s torch and insinuating herself in the management of the estate.  Michelle Dockery did what she could with the material, but I wish there had been more for her to sink her teeth into.

Despite the shortcomings of how we saw Mary’s grief handled, these initial two hours found Isobel Crawley’s very sense of identity in crisis as a result of her son’s death.  In a touching scene between herself and Lady Edith, she says: “When your child dies, you’re not a mother anymore.  You’re not anything, really.  And that’s what I’m trying to get used to.”  A plot that originally had me rolling my eyes (a mysterious actor friend of Carson’s reappearing) ends up dovetailing beautifully with Isobel’s struggle.  In offering to help this Mr. Grigg, she rediscovers a humanity she thought had died in the passenger seat right alongside Matthew.  Her kindness and charity—two traits that made her who she was—are alive and well.  They’d survived the accident, and if they did, then, perhaps, by remaining true to herself, she can honor Matthew’s legacy and endure as well.  Powerful stuff, and beautifully played by Penelope Wilton.

That brings us to the subject of my favorite plotline: Moseley.  Who expected Downton to afford so much screen time to the late Matthew Crawley’s valet?  I certainly didn’t, but I’m so glad we had the opportunity to delve into how this has affected him.  You see, from Moseley’s perspective, he was set for life; the sudden departure of his cash cow has replaced the prospect of a steady income with a general sense of listlessness when it comes to his future.

The Dowager Countess gets involved (as is her wont), staying true to her tendency to help those she cares about.  It seems the Lady Shackleton might be in need of help when her current butler retires, so Violet pulls some strings and gets a sort of performance interview during a luncheon between the two ladies.  In a bleakly funny sequence, the Dowager’s current help, misreading the scenario and feeling his livelihood is in jeopardy, hinders Moseley’s every move (including heating up the handle of a serving tray beneath a flame) and the job opportunity disintegrates.

Soon after, Anna finds Moseley working as a day laborer doing street repairs, and she feels horribly and wants to help because Anna is THE BEST.  Bates agrees to help Anna because Bates is THE BEST and, with Violet, they hatch a scheme to give Moseley a gift of 30 pounds by convincing him Bates owed him money from ages ago.  It turns out, a stint it prison teaches you more than how to make the best toilet wine; you can also learn the fine art of forgery and use it to trick your friends into taking your money!  So, in the end, Bates and Anna help Moseley when they’re not mailing each other anonymous love notes on Valentine’s Day.  #PowerCouple

Speaking of love stories for the ages, our Lady Edith seems swept up in the plot of every school girl’s dream: it’s the old find-a-man-you-love-and-who-loves-you-but-who-can’t-be-with-you-due-to-his-current-wife’s-extreme-mental-incapacitation-so-he-must-become-a-German-citizen-before-he-marries-you-because-lunacy-is-grounds-for-divorce-there.  Yes, things are progressing just as you’d expect for Edith and (future Nazi?) Mr. Gregson.  Call me a pessimist, but I have a sneaking suspicion this Cinderella story isn’t going to end as well as it seems destined to right now.

In other not-so-newsworthy developments, Robert continues to be THE. WORST.  In an effort to cement his bid for Father of the Year, he uses Mary’s grief to his advantage (her withdrawal having left a power vacuum as far as estate affairs go, leaving Lord Grantham salivating) and considers withholding Matthew’s will from Mary to secure his grip on power.  Thank God for Violet, who takes every opportunity to belittle her son, calling him both childish and foolish in her very upper-crust Dowager Countess-y ways.  As the second hour ends, and Mary finds the hastily scrawled will to be legitimate, I loved Hugh Bonneville’s look of feigned happiness; Robert, ever the traditionalist, clearly takes issue with this latest brand of female empowerment.  The clash between modernity and tradition has always been at the heart of this series, and I am excited to see how it unfolds here between father and daughter.

Amongst all this are subplots of various quality: O’Brien flies the coop in the dead of night (for India because why not?), Carson makes up with a long-lost theatre buddy after a squabble over (what else?) a lady, Rose likes to dress up as the help and go dancing (not in that order), the Alfred/Ivy/Jimmy/Daisy quadrangle complicates during Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Patmore is adorably inept with her newfangled kitchen appliance, *** and Edna Braithwaite returns to Downton (who?).

***For the record, I fully endorse the idea of having each subsequent episode feature Mrs. Patmore wrestling with a new piece of quasi-technological cookware because that sounds amazing.

In the end, though certainly uneven in spots, this premiere did a great job of getting us right back into the swing of things at Downton.  It wasn’t perfect, but that’s sort of why I love this show so much; it’s big and messy and over-the-top and melodramatic, and I love every minute of it.

Well, my fellow Downtonites, until next weekend!  Whatever that is…


Snippets of Intrigue

– Carson: “What does it matter anyway?  We shout and wail and scream and cry but in the end we all must die.”

Mrs. Hughes: “That’s cheered me up.”

– Dowager Countess: “You must choose either death or life.”

– Carson: “You’re letting yourself be defeated, my lady.  I’m sorry if it’s a lapse to say, but someone has to.”

– Lady Mary: “He’s not bad-looking, and he’s still alive, which puts him ahead of most men of our generation.”

Community S05E02: “Introduction to Teaching”

 …an episode reminding us all the importance of “being a sexy cat”

If the excellent premiere episode was all about re-acclimating us to Harmon’s vision of Community and allowing us to fall in love with his characters again, the second one—even better than its predecessor—was all about tickling our funny bone.  And if you didn’t find yourself erupting with laughter at least a half-dozen times throughout this installment, then it’s likely that this show just isn’t for you.  Because if this is the kind of humor we can expect from an invigorated fifth season, then I would like to take all of the classes, please.

I loved the thematic lynchpin of this episode, as both the A and B stories hinged on a sort of identity crisis for those involved.  Jeff, Greendale’s Fundamentals of Law professor, found himself in need of an identity overhaul when the episode began.  Business as usual was no longer appropriate for Mr. Winger; apparently, it’s not socially acceptable for a teacher to leer at his female students or to ridicule those who chose to pierce their ears (I’m looking at you, Leonard).  Chalk that up as Jeff’s first learning experience as an educator.

And this is where this second episode of Community found a way to mine fresh life out of this series: introducing the teachers as a new social group.  With the exception of Chang (the newly minted math teacher whose advice to Jeff is to have students break up into groups and grade each other, dangling episodes of Planet Earth in front of them as motivation), the teachers didn’t really fly in the study group’s orbit on any consistent basis.  But getting to know this bunch is going to be a hoot because Harmon’s opening up this world in very new ways.

Which leads us to Criminology professor/amateur cartoonist Buzz Hickey.  As played by the incredible Jonathan Banks, Hickey is a cantankerous, cynical, and grizzled educator, scoffing at Jeff’s insistence that this teaching thing is just a phase.  Though Jeff is by no means in love with teaching (though, by episode’s end, he does concede that he wouldn’t rule out hooking up with it from time to time), Hickey’s palpable disdain for his students is off-putting even to him.  Hickey schools Jeff in the darker realities of teaching: it’s a world of chalk (teachers) vs. lead (students).  And sometimes, that means threatening students with cafeteria flatware and stealing their meatballs to establish dominance.  Such is the life of an educator in America.

A peak into this distorted world of teaching was hilarious enough—commentary on the laziest of teachers proved ripe with comedy—but Harmon took it a step further.  After Annie catches wind of Jeff’s lackadaisical teaching style, she enrolls in his class to make sure he’s qualified to teach law, which, of course, he’s not.  In an act of friendship, Hickey gives Annie a dreaded A- on her Witness Intimidation Project (hilarious), forcing her to drop Fundamentals of Law to put all of her efforts into Hickey’s class.  Because, you see, this is the darkest secret of all: the A- was invented by teachers as payback for students they don’t like.

Fed up with Hickey’s bad attitude, Jeff lets this slip, leading to a literal riot as the students of Greendale realize their perceptions of their teachers and themselves as students has been a lie.  “Minuses are made up!” Annie screams to the masses, provoking them.  Even Magnitude joins in the ensuing chaos, hurling a garbage can through a window and shouting the most blood-curdling version of “Pop pop” you’ll ever here.  As I’m writing this, I’m still laughing about it.

After quelling the riot, Dean Pelton forms a Teacher-Student Alliance, featuring our usual study group members plus (oh goodness gracious I’m giddy with excitement just thinking about it) Professor Hickey.  Plus, Jeff found out teaching might not be so bad after all.

During all of this, a second (perhaps even funnier) identity crisis was taking place.  A two-session class called “Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?” piqued Abed’s interest and, with Troy and Shirley in tow for emotional support, he enlists.  Needless to say, it’s not long before Abed goes full-on Carrie Matheson as he tries to deconstruct Cage’s performances in myriad films, including a half-baked theory about aliens early on in Snake Eyes.

When Abed comes back to class holding a binder thick with notes and rife with post Its, evidence of his analysis, I knew something special was about to happen.  But I had no idea just how special, as Danny Pudi delivered one of the best comedic performances I’ve seen in a while, devolving into a virtual revolving door of Cage-isms.   When he climbed onto the desk and declared himself a sexy cat, I laughed until I cried.

That this plot somehow managed to become an exploration of faith is just so wonderfully Harmon-esque.  I never thought I would hear a human being utter the phrase, “So Nicolas Cage is Jesus?” in my life.  But I’m so, so glad I have now.

This was simply a brilliant episode; its exploration of what it means to redefine yourself when you least expect or want to, coupled with gut-busting humor, launches it to the top of my list of personal all-time favorite Community eps.  After season four, I thought the show’s best days were behind it.

Apparently not.


Quotes from the Refurbished Study Room

–   Jeff: “Any questions?  You, Red Hair.  I’m not going to learn names.”

Student: “Will there be a syllbas?”

Jeff: “Will there be a syllabus.  Is a good example of a question.  Moving on.”

– Jeff: “Oh, Elaine.  Take it easy on the Oxford commas!”

– Shirley: “I don’t know. If I was in 70 movies over 30 years, and I spent each one of them speaking at random volumes, I might accidentally win an Oscar.”

– Troy: “Abed!  Think of something safe!   Like Holly Hunter!  Or Don Cheadle!”

– Did you catch the board in class?  ABC = Always Be Caging.  Words of wisdom if ever there were any.

Community S05E01: “Repilot”

…an episode reminding us all the importance of “vision boarding!”

Regardless of your opinion on Community’s maligned fourth season (for the record, I didn’t hate it as much as most), you can’t deny the show’s dire need for a creative boost.  While the first three seasons crackled with a maniacal creative energy, last year seemed content to recycle gags—Inspector Spacetime, Darkest Timelines, and paintball—and become more insular, much to the show’s detriment.

In reclaiming the throne previously wrestled from him, re-appointed showrunner Dan Harmon needed to do two things: reestablish the show’s madcap comic sensibilities (duh) while somehow assuring us that last season was simultaneously an anomaly but not a complete waste of time.  This required the fifth season of Community to both distance itself from last year while also building off it in some capacity.  Um.  Yeah.  Sounds simple, I guess?

Going into Thursday night’s premiere, I’ll make a confession:  I was worried.  Harmon’s behind-the-scenes shenanigans, at this point, are well documented and won’t get more play here, but I had a very real concern that his ego would interfere with his ability to pull off this virtual high-wire act of a reboot.

Sometimes, I love being wrong.  Of course he pulled it off.

From the first shot of Jeff’s absurd attorney promo film (an Abed Nadir joint, we later found out), this all felt so…right.  In the tradition of the best Harmon-era episodes, the narrative of “Repilot” was driven by a close attention to this ragtag assemblage of characters, and it gave us a chance to fall in love with them again.  After all, when character (and not gimmick) drives the story, the jokes feel fresh and organic, and fresh and organic jokes tend to land, which they consistently did tonight.

What’s more, Jeff’s post-graduate law practice failed before it really began—that inflated SFX budget on his film did not prove a wise investment—which sparked a plot that found a very believable way to put Britta, Annie, Troy, Abed, Shirley, and Jeff back in the study (now record) room together, which had been closed for sentimental/asbestos reasons after graduation, according to Dean Pelton.

You see, it turns out Greendale graduates have a track record of ineptitude.  In fact, a local bridge collapse can be traced back to one such alum, Marvin Humphries, whose path toward mass destruction could probably have been predicted by his end of coursework thesis: a faulty Lego bridge.  His attorney is, of course, Jeff Winger’s nemesis Alan Connor (a hilarious Rob Corddry).  Connor’s defense strategy is to prove Humphries was “irresponsibly educated” by an institution that, as he says, “turns idiots into bridge collapsers.”  Jeff, feeling as if he’s lost his lawyerly mojo, agrees to retrieve Humphries’s Greendale files for Connors, and before you can say E. Pluribus Anus, he’s strolling the halls of his old stomping ground, prompting raspberries from Leonard and gasps of ecstasy from Dean Pelton.

Naturally, Dean Pelton shredded Humphries’s records, so Jeff has to embrace his inner sleazeball in order to both prove he’s still got it and get payback on a college he believes failed him.   After Abed wrangles the crew together to take part in a “Save Greendale” Committee, Jeff seizes the opportunity to suggest to the former study group about bringing a class action suit against his alma mater.  All it takes is some minor Machiavellian manipulation of his closest friends.

There was something really interesting bubbling under the surface here, a heft that gave the comedy more meaning.  As we caught up with these characters, none of them were living the post-graduate lives they imagined they would be.  Britta’s a bartender.  Abed gave up filmmaking; apparently, irreconcilable creative differences  over inserting Jeff’s “derivative” 555 office number during his film left a rotten taste in his mouth.  Andre left Shirley again, this time because of Shirley’s diverted attention with her business.  Annie is pushing pens for a drug company that both invented and cured fibromyalgia.  And Troy, well, Troy is waiting to sue Abed—don’t ask.  The sequence played like Community’s version of group therapy, both for the study group and the audience.  By checking in with each character, or more to the point, Harmon’s version of each character, it seemed like the perfect way to make sure our transition back to the Community of yore was a smooth one while also addressing the very real notion of post-college anxiety and disappointment.

Of course, the study group ultimately opted to skip the class action (thanks to a hilarious and surprising message from Pierce Hawthorne in hologram form who gave Jeff the reminder he needed).  Rather than destroy Greendale, they decided to rebrand themselves, torching the old study room table and rebuilding a new one.  But Harmon played this heavily symbolic moment, which might have otherwise come across as hokey, just right, having them fail a woodworking assignment for making a table but not the required birdhouse.  For me, this was a microcosm of Harmon’s genius: the zany bond of friendship flying in the face of logic.  It’s what Community has always been about, and I loved seeing it addressed so cleverly once again.

As the episode closed out, our study group friends are re-enrolling at Greendale to quit making excuses and grab their lives by the throat.  Good for them!  Oh, also Jeff’s a teacher now.  And a bald-headed, vision-boarding dean is definitely hot for him.

The Community we love is back, folks.  Oh, happy dean!


Quotes from the Former Study Room:

– Britta: “I’m on sabbatical.”

Troy: “You’re Jewish?”

– Britta: “I don’t believe in evil.  But this school clearly got a finger up its butt as a child.”

– Dean Pelton: “I’m going to cry.”

Jeff: “Please don’t.”

Dean Pelton: “Request denied.”

– Hologram Pierce Hawthorne: “Don’t turn your back on this place.  It’s a crappy place, for sure.  But only because it gives crappy people a chance to sort themselves out.”  Vintage Pierce: crude but sweet!