Archive for September, 2013

*The following grades refer ONLY to premiere episodes. In addition to a letter grade, I will also suggest — based on what the episode suggests for the season to come — that you “Subscribe” on Hulu, “Keep your eye on” for the odd episode here and there or “Kill and Bury,” which should be self-explanatory.

The Blacklist

James Spader is Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former Navy Man turned “Concierge Criminal” who tops the FBI’s most wanted list. One morning he inexplicably turns himself in to the authorities, offering to help track down the world’s nastiest criminals in exchange for a little hospitality and the chance to work with a hand-picked rookie Elizabteh Keen, played by Megan Boone.

What motivated Red to abandon his life of crime and help the authorities? What is his connection to Elizabeth? What’s up with Elizabeth’s husband? Those are among the many mysteries promised in NBC’s newest, shiniest thriller, which is probably the most cinematic piece of broadcast television I’ve seen since Lost.

Blacklist will either evolve into a rote case-of-the-week procedural that never delivers on its promises, or it will be a pulpy treat of international intrigue and mystery. It’s too early to tell, but for the time being Spader is clearly having a ball, and it’s infectious to watch.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

Hostages

The night before Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) is scheduled to operate on the president of the United States, she and her family are taken hostage in their home by a team of mercenaries led by Dylan McDermott, who is also a whatever-it-takes FBI agents with a daughter and hospitalized wife. Sanders is given a simple choice, either kill the president during surgery, or they kill her family.

Hostages is touted as a 15-episode story, rather than the beginnings of a new series, but it probably would’ve been better off as a late-summer feature film starring B-list talent. For a show about a conspiracy to kill a U.S. President, Hostages delivers the most boring 44-minutes I’ve ever seen. The central premise doesn’t manifest for 25 minutes — instead we see a laborious amount of setup establishing that each family member has a dark secret that DRAMA will probably be revisited at some point — and just when you think something might happen at the end, nope, nothing, nothing at all.

Grade: C

Class: Kill and Bury

Mom

Chuck Lorre, creator of Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory, has become the reigning champion of creating derivative comedies that score ratings gold for CBS. While the quality of his latest, Mom, is on par with those previous entries — qualitatively falling somewhere between 2.5 and TBBT — the tone of the show is an awkward mishmash of dramatic plots violently buried beneath the thunder of a laugh track.

Anna Farris stars as the titular mom, she’s 6 months sober and working to heal the broken relationship between herself and her two children. Her mother, played by the always-game Allyson Janney is two years sober and working to repair her relationship with Anna Farris. Oh, and Farris’ teenager daughter is apparently pregnant and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

So it’s a multi-camera sitcom about intergenerational social ills? HILARIOUS! The pilot isn’t so much filled with jokes as it is commentary on the failures of modern society (sample: “My mother taught me how to beat a cavity search and still feel like a lady”) that would be more at home in a two-hour docu-drama on Lifetime than the light-hearted stuffing on CBS’ Monday comedy block. I still don’t know why it’s funny but at least the in-studio audience (who sound like they’re being paid by the chuckle) let me know when I’m supposed to laugh.

Grade: D

Class: Kill and Bury

How I Met Your Mother

The long-awaited Mother has arrived and she’s…actually quite charming. I’ll admit I bristled at the reports that HIMYM’s final season would unfold in the 55-hour leadup to Barney and Robin’s wedding, but having now seen the premiere my fears are assuaged. Showrunners Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have not confined themselves to a jail cell, but are using the same time-jumps we’ve grown accustomed to give us just enough peaks at Ted and the Mother’s future bliss to satisfy fans without sacrificing the show’s central premise. And, with a long weekend wedding promising a host of cameos from past characters (Ranjit!) it looks like we fans may just get the happy ending we’ve been waiting for.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

Castle

After six seasons, the team over at Castle pretty much have their formula set in stone. While that stays true, the writers have at least given themselves something of a challenge now that Beckett is living in D.C. working for the FBI on classified cases Castle can’t help her with.

Last season’s cliffhanger ending is dealt with quickly and satisfactorily before a quick two-month time jump. Castle is struggling with the long-distance nature of his relationship with Beckett and naturally inserts himself into Beckett’s latest case. Typical shenanigans ensue.

The show is as charming as ever but it’s beginning to show signs of age. Now that CasKet are officially a couple, I think it might be time to focus on one good season and send our heroes off with a thank you and goodnight.

Grade: B

Class: Keep and Eye On

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Things with “Marvel” on the poster tend to be liquid gold, so it’s natural that the superhero machine’s foray into television is the buzziest new entry of the fall season. Starring a resurrected Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and a rag-tag team of special agent misfits, this show is about the decidedly human arm of the organization that helps The Avengers save the world.

So far that buzz appears to be satisfactorily met, with the first-hour laying the groundwork for what could be a winning formula. Joss Whedon’s signature blend of action and wit is ever-present (as is his pension for recycling actors, like Firefly’s Ron Glass), the set pieces are grand, the gadgetry is eye-popping and the sexual tension between our requisite will-they-won’t-they-couple is present, even if Brett Dalton has a face like a block of wood.

The first half of the pilot is considerably better than the last, which rushes to wrap-up the freak of the week plot introduced in the opening seconds. And if you haven’t seen the preceding Marvel films, particularly The Avengers and Iron Man 3, you may be lost by one or two things in the pilot, but I don’t see that as being a serious problem or one that will persist beyond the first episode.

Grade: B+

Class: Subscribe

The Goldbergs

Take HIMYM, Freaks and Geeks and The Wonder Years, put it in a blender on high and then pour it out on top of a screaming Jeff Garlin and you have The Goldberbs, a comedy about a quirky family navigating the 1980s and told from the perspective of the youngest son, who’s adult-alter ego Patton Oswalt narrates via voice over.

Perhaps it was the low expectations bred by the promos but I was shocked by how much I enjoyed the pilot. It’s more of a riff on the 80s than a family comedy, which IMO is a good call because the 80s were ridiculous and family comedies typically aren’t that funny (I know there’s people out there who enjoy Raising Hope and The Middle, I just don’t know why). At some point the writers may run out of roller rink and slinky jokes to tell, at which point The Goldbergs will have to deal with awkward teen pregnancy and drug abuse plotlines. I hope I’m wrong, but at least the pilot made me laugh.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep and Eye On

Trophy Wife

Malin Akermin is Kate, the cute blonde who – for reasons I can’t explain – meets and marries an older man (Bradley Whitford) who is twice-divorced and a father of three. It’s not that the show is particularly bad, or woefully un-funny, but Trophy Wife carries a sense of utter pointlessness. I can’t imagine what audience is asking for a show like this, or what niche ABC thinks they’re serving that isn’t already watching the much-better Modern Family.

Speaking of Modern Family, watching Trophy Wife made me realize exactly what makes MF work. Yes, the Pritchett-Delgado clan is one of the best ensembles ever put together, but that includes the child actors. If Luke, Manny and Lilly weren’t able to deliver a line, their characters would be the cloying dead weight that drags the whole ship down.

That, in essence, is Trophy Wife’s problem. The four adult actors are likeable enough, but every time one of the children spoke I found myself eyeing the magazine on my coffee table. I would suggest a remedy, but I don’t think Disney-owned ABC would be interested in my modest proposal.

Grade: C+

Class: Kill and Bury

Lukcy 7

Lucky 7 is about a group of convenience store employees who win the lottery. I would write a synopsis of each character’s plot, but this show simply isn’t worth the time that would take. Looking beyond the shoddy acting and plot pacing, there is absolutely nothing compelling about anyone on screen. By the end of the episode, I honestly didn’t care if the characters lived or died. As far as I’m concerned, a Sharknado struck the city the second the closing credits rolled, wiping out everyone and everything.

Grade: D-

Class: Kill and Bury

Modern Family 

In probably the least surprising “twist” of the new fall premieres, Mitch and Cam respond to the recent SCOTUS decision on Prop 8 by…getting engaged (duh!). Here’s hoping co-creator Steve Levitan makes good and his offer to let Anne Romney officiate the ceremony. It’s not like Mitt has a political future she could damage, plus it would be ratings gold.  All in all, a solid but hardly earth-shattering episode for the recent Emmy winner.

Grade: B+

Class: Subscribe

Back in the Game

The uber-charming Maggie Lawson is all-but-unknown to anyone who doesn’t watch Psych on USA, which is a shame since I doubt that this half-hour little league baseball comedy is the vehicle that will launch her into the mainstream. The pilot, which sees Lawson’s down on her luck single mother move back in with her surly father (James Caan) and take over coaching duties of her son’s band-of-misfit team, suffers no grave sins but instead is largely innocuous, faint praise in the “Golden Age of Television.”

The table-scraps baseball team (called “The Angles” due to a typo on their jerseys) could make for some good family-friendly fodder and for now they’ve avoided the typical child-actor curse of being comedy anathema (see: Trophy Wife). I don’t have high hopes, but who knows, I’ve been wrong before.

Grade: B-

Class: Keep an Eye On

The Michael J. Fox Show

MJF has to be one of the most likeable men alive, so it’s hard to find fault with his return to television in the eponymous multi-camera NBC sitcom about a TV news anchor with Parkinson’s disease. The comedy isn’t particularly groundbreaking but it, for the most part, lands, thanks in large part to the talent of Fox, Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt and The Wire’s Wendell Pierce. Your typical dumb-husband-sage-wife trope is present, but it never quite sinks to the depths of a Tim Allen/Raymond retread.

After being burned by NBC’s recent attempts at relaunching it’s Thursday comedy block (Whitney and Guys With Kids, anyone?) it’s comforting to see the peacock sticking with a winning formula, even if it is a formula we see a lot.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

The Crazy Ones

I’ve never been particularly fond of Robin Williams’ brand of humor, especially when you consider what we know him to be capable of as a dramatic actor (see: Dead Poet’s Society, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, etc.). BUT I’m also not a fan of the CBS multi-camera sitcom machine and was intrigued that the Eye was venturing into laugh-track free, single camera comedy.

But much like McKayla, I am not impressed. Despite a healthy bench of supporting players (including The Newsroom’s Hamish Linklater and Mad Men’s James Wolk) this father-daughter workplace comedy about an eccentric advertising genius just doesn’t sell. We’re supposed to believe that behind the outbursts and facial contortions, William’s character is a brilliant marketing mind, but where Mad Men’s Don Draper gave us “It’s Toasted” and that haunting pitch for the Kodak Carousel, William’s lightbulb idea is a shot-for-shot remake of a bad McDonald’s commercial from the 70s, featuring a jingle to be sung by — fingers crossed — Kelly Clarkson.

This is what happens when a network known for its geriatric audiences tries to be hip. Pass.

Grade: C

Class: Kill and Bury

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*Portions of this review were published in January as part of my coverage of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Joseph-Gordon-Levitt-in-Don-Jon-2013-Movie-Image

In his feature directorial debut, Sundance- and America’s-darling Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who also wrote and stars in the film) adopts an array of sleeveless muscle tees, a Joizy accent and a slicked back crew cut as the womanizing and porn-addicted Jon.

As Jon tells us himself in the first of a series of swift-cut rapid-edit montages, there’s only a few things he really cares about: his looks, his apartment, his car, his family, his church, his bros, his ladies and of course, his porn. He’s a relatively care-free bartender who likes to go out and is incredibly successful at getting women to go home with him and, having done that, counts the minutes for when his company leaves and he can be alone again with his computer.

But after meeting Scarlett Johansson’s Barbara – played with all the gum-chewing, hair twirling patter of a Jersey Shore cast reject – Jon decides to do something unprecedented: he plays the long game, taking the time and effort to actually build a relationship with another human being. Barbara isn’t won over easily, and bit by bit Jon finds himself changing to meet her expectations, most notably by delaying the physical aspects of their relationship and enrolling in a community college to earn a degree.

The movie is chock-full of things that would make my mother blush, but it’s also filled with heaps of heart for its array of loveable-while-unlikeable characters. Don Jon tells us the story of a man learning how to make connections in the real world but also paints one of the most clever juxtapositions I’ve ever seen of the way both men AND women objectify each other. Jon’s unrealistic expectations of women and romance, bred by his years of heavy pornography consumption, is placed in contrast and reflection to his paramour’s obsession with derivative romantic comedies and concept of the male ideal. Which is the greater fiction? Most people would likely fall on one side of the debate, but that doesn’t mean the question isn’t worth asking.

Also, for a first-time director, JGL masterfully cuts the film together, using computer sound cues and tones with expert precision and perfectly sinking his cuts with the beat and rhythm of the music and story. His character’s slow-burn transformation is both seamless and natural and the supporting players – particularly Tony Danza as Jon’s hilariously identical father – are managed with a care and finesse that breeds believability.

As for the graphic content, which is sure to ruffle some feathers, the movie makes liberal uses of pornographic clips but Gordon-Levitt took great care to select images that arrive at the edge of, but do not reach beyond, what is typical for an R-rated movie. Don Jon is Adult with a capital A, but it is also funny, fearless and at its center is a nuanced conversation about the way we consume content and vilify the choices of others.

In the end yes, Don Jon is a movie about porn. But it’s also probably the best movie about porn I’ve ever seen.

Grade: A

*Don Jon opens nationwide on September 27.

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In 1976, Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda was well on his way to a second world championship title. But after a horrific accident hospitalized Lauda with significant burns to his face and body, the Austrian driver saw his lead in the points closing as his rival, English racer James Hunt, won race after race in his absence.

In Rush, Ron Howard’s biographical film about the 1976 Formula 1 season, it is all but exclusively the threat of losing his title to Hunt that motivates Lauda to speed his recovery and return to racing in just 6 weeks. While the animosity between the two racers might be embellished in the movie, their 1976 season is nonetheless regarded as one of the greatest rivalries in racing history.

Thor’s Chris Hemsworth plays the boozing, womanizing, jocular Hunt while the more reserved, calculating and stoic-to-a-fault Lauda is played by Daniel Bruhl, who delivered one of several standout performances in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. Both men are given equal screen time as their life paths push them closer together before arriving head-to-head, but it is Bruhl who commands the plot, seething behind a pinched expression and speaking in staccato punches like a Euro-Vulcan in the driver’s seat of a Ferrari. His Lauda is a gruff, unlikeable jerk compared to the magnetic charm of Hemsworth’s Hunt, but their opposing styles is what makes their rivalry, and this movie, so compelling.

Rush passes through the requisite backstory for each man, showing how both racers arrived in the big leagues through comically parallel paths and highlighting the stark contrast between their two personalities. But the bulk of the film is dedicated to the 1976 season, in which Lauda attempts  to defend his title with Hunt hot on his heels. Each man is given a romantic subplot but it is when the rubber meets the road that Rush becomes a full-throttle spectacle that you can’t take your eyes off of.

Howard, best known for dramatic fare like Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon, proves a perfect fit to the genre. His camera captures every squealing tire and firing piston without losing sight of the human beings whose lives are on the line. The danger of Formula 1 racing is omnipresent with the film’s plot coming during an era where an average of two drivers died each year. Rush bottles this danger and holds it out for examination, scoring the film with a subtext of the thrill-seeking nature of the near-nihilists who make defying death their livelihood.

Grade: B+

*Rush opens nationwide on Sept. 27.

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Tom Hanks has set a relatively low bar for himself over the last few years. Not Nicolas Cage low or anything, but not exactly the kind of resume you would expect from the so-called “Mayor of Hollywood.” Setting aside his voice work, the last semi-decent movie Hanks acted in was 2009’s Angels and Demons, and that’s assuming you count Angels and Demons as a decent film — which many people don’t. (Some of you may cry foul at the exclusion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close but IMHO that movie was insufferable to the point I couldn’t watch it all the way through to the end. And I watch everything, I watched all of The Happening for crying out loud.)

But given Hanks’ struggles that doesn’t mean you should role your eyes when I tell you that in Captain Phillips, Hanks delivers his best performance in years. As the captain of a freighter overtaken by Somali pirates, Hanks plays an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances and reminds you what this two-time Oscar winner is capable of.

On their way around the horn of Africa — to ironically deliver, among other things, humanitarian aid supplies — the crew of the Maersk Alabama are pursued and hijacked by a small group of machine-gun toting pirates. Captain Richard Phillips instructs his crew to hide below decks, leaving essentially himself to deal with the intruders, who immediately demand the boat be taken to Somalia for ransom. Finding the ship intentionally scuttled, the pirates then demand at gunpoint that Phillips lead them to the rest of the crew, who can repair the boat and make harbor.

With very few options, Phillips does what he can to buy time, ultimately finding himself alone on an enclosed life raft with his captors being pursued by the U.S. Navy. While the audience stays mostly tethered to Phillip’s point of view, the camera pulls back just enough to let us know that the pirates will be stopped before reaching the coast, one way or another.

Directed by Paul Greengrass, who helmed the second and third Matt Damon as Jason Bourne films, Captain Phillips is one part nail-biting high-seas adventure and one part tragic social commentary. The siege of the Maersk Alabama is a breathtaking piece of action directing, possessing all the white-knuckle tension of a blockbuster aerial dogfight despite consisting of a freighter and skiff bouncing around on the ocean waves.

Greengrass’ pirates, culled from non-professional actors, are not swashbuckling rogues but are instead an almost uncomfortably realistic portrayal of third-world poverty. They have no choice but to live this life of maritime crime and as their situation grows more hopeless, their choice is but to continue on or die trying, infusing the plot with an unpredictable danger and tension that Greengrass keeps running high but never boiling completely over.

The movie builds on a relentless crescendo, beginning small and following through as both Phillips and the pirates reach wit’s end and are pushed to ever-more-desperate steps. My main complaint would be that the personalities of the four “vilains” are unfortunately archetypal — the innocent teenager in over his head, the loose-cannon, the talkative leader with his finger on the trigger — but their portrayals keep their heads above water and avoid dipping into cliche or caricature.

Captain Phillips is a taut and highly emotional tale of survival on the high seas, elevated further by its roots in the real world. It shrugs off the unnecessary pageantry of more fictitious films like Hanks’ own Castaway, instead focusing on the inherit drama of normal people facing unimaginable dangers.

Grade: A-

*Captain Phillips opens nationwide on Oct. 11.

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I said I’d be posting a video soon of my new Ukulele and sure enough, here it is. The best thing about the Kamoa is the low-base string, which let’s me do some travis pickin’. That also makes it perfect for a song I’ve been working on, Family of the Year’s Hero.

I first came across family of the year in a roundabout way. Last summer I went to a Civil Wars concert where Milo Greene was the opener. I thought Milo Greene sounded great so when they came back through town a month later and played Kilby Court I went and checked it out. It so happened that Family of the Year was opening at Kilby Court for Milo Greene, which is why you should always get to a concert earlier to hear the opening bands.

Anyway, Family of the Year is kind of exploding right now and Hero has gotten some decent radio time so you’ve likely heard it before. I’m not trying to say “I heard of them first,” but I did hear of them first. Just sayin.

Also, I threw this song on Bandcamp for any of you who want to have a little more One Wood Uke in your lives. It’s a free download and my covers of “The Boxer” and “Single Ladies” are on there as well. Hope you like it.

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Guys, I’m excited. As an adult who is no longer subject to the agrarian calendar, the Fall TV Premiere season is pretty much the best time of the year. The leaves are changing, pumpkin-flavored treats are back on the shelves, my autumnal wardrobe is my most dashing and, best of all, the television is once again a gateway to endless hours of entertainment and storytelling.

In case you’ve forgotten how this works, here’s a refresher. Each week we here at Wood’s Stock will be watching the latest fall premieres (all new series and a few returning favorites), which we will then evaluate with a two-step model.

First, the episode will be given a letter grade based on its quality, consistent with the other reviews commonly posted on this website.

Second, based on that premiere episode we will issue one of three classifications for the amount of attention we predict you should give to coming season: “Subscribe” meaning you should commit to watching weekly, “Keep and Eye On,” meaning it’s too early to decide how a show will be, or “Kill and Bury,” meaning you should terminate with extreme prejudice.

All set? Here we go.

Sleepy Hollow (Fox)

A month ago if you had told me I would end up saying “subscribe” to Sleepy Hollow I would have said….well I would have said “ok, but I’m definitely going to hate ‘Dads’.”

Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect from Sleepy Hollow and frankly, I still don’t. Written by Star Trek’s Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and directed by Underworld’s Len Wiseman, the pilot episode is a slickly produced, 44-minute gonzo smash of mythological conspiracy, supernatural mystery and buddy-cop shenanigans. Oh yeah, and it features no less than five decapitations, one of which makes gleeful use of a clever first-person camera view. “Guillotine Cam,” as it were.

It begins in the throes of the revolutionary war, where British defector-turned-American-spy Ichabod Crane encounters, skirmishes with and beheads a hulking Redcoat with a battle axe, getting injured in the process. Next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a cave and stumbling into a strange land with electricity, automobiles and a Starbucks at every corner.

But the Redcoat, now a headless horseman, wakes up as well and quickly dispatches with the town sheriff. Suspicion is immediately cast on the apparently-insane Crane, but a local beat cop begins to sense that things are not what they seem and enlists his help to track down the real killer.

“Sleepy Hollow” goes a step further than the children’s tale, envisioning the Headless Horseman as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and setting our heroes in the middle of an age-old battle between the forces of good and evil, in which our world naturally hangs in the balance.

The question is whether Sleepy Hollow will sustain it’s madness or be consumed by it. Many of these high-concept spookfests fizzle, but here’s hoping Fox’s new creation continues to be bloody good fun.

Grade: B+

Class: Subscribe, before this train flies off the rails

Dads (Fox)

For months now the buzz on Dads has been that it’s awful. One media watchdog group asked the network to reshoot what it viewed to be racist scenes, to which Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly responded by telling critics to be “patient,” essentially implying that yes, the pilot is garbage but it gets better.

Having seen it, Dads isn’t so awful, it’s just aggressively mediocre. Shot in a bargain-bin laughtrack and multi-camera style that sticks out of the Fox’s single camera Tuesday lineup like an Asian schoolgirl at a business meeting, Dads tells the story of two man-child game developer bros (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) who reluctantly take in their down-on-their-luck man-child fathers, because COMEDY! Oh yeah, and The Social Network’s lovely Brenda Song is also along to serve as both eye candy and as a catalyst for insensitive and racially-stereotypical jokes, because COMEDY!

Dads is the product of the team behind Family Guy and American Dad, and proves the old adage that some jokes only work when cartoons say them. It’s also no surprise that the plot, characters and production are so two-dimensional.

Grade: C-

Class: Kill and Bury

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)

Imagine if the characters on The Office had guns and arrested criminals and you get a sense for the tone of this workplace comedy/cop procedural hybrid. SNL’s Andy Sandberg stars as Jake Peralta, the young detective with a gift for police work despite his schoolyard antics and disdain for authority. Last Resort’s Andre Braugher stars as said authority, whose appointment as commanding officer over Brooklyn’s 99th precinct serves as the entrance into the storyline, with Braugher taking a tough-as-nails approach to management in order to shape things up.

Oh and there’s a murder, but it’s mostly an afterthought since we have to acquaint ourselves with the characters, including Peralta’s obligatory will-they-won’t-they love interest partner, with whom he shares a flirtatiously competitive repertoire, and the always welcome Terry Crews as a lame-duck Sergeant shaken up by the dangers of police work after his daughters were born.

The tone is light and the jokes mostly land, with the show-runners sprinkling in just enough sentimentality between the shenanigans to keep things from dipping into a Police Academy parody land. Qualms, I’ve got a few, but I’m willing to give Brooklyn the benefit of a doubt.

Grade: B

Class: Subscribe

New Girl (Fox)

Nick and Jessica are finally together, now what? Apparently the answer to that question is run to Mexico so they can further delay facing the complications of their roommate/romantic relationship. That naturally leads to the kind of overblown nonsense you would expect, as the two prove they’re “all in” by making a series of increasingly poor decision.

Back in the loft, Schmidt is still struggling to decide which of his two lady loves to commit to. We all know it’s going to be Cece, but why make easy decisions quickly when it can be postponed for maximum comedic value. Right?

Oh, and Winston continues to not be a character so much as he is a convenient plot device the other characters can interact with and bounce their plots off of. In this episode, which feels like like a premiere than it does a back half pre-finale burner hour, we learn that Winston apparently loves puzzles. But surprise, he’s actually terrible at them.

A poor showing that hopefully doesn’t signal what’s to come in season 3.

Grade: C+

Class: Keep an Eye On. Oh who am I kidding? Subscribe for Schmidt.

The Mindy Project (Fox)

Much like its sister-series New Girl, The Mindy Project was all but unwatchable when it first premiered but managed to find a voice and deliver an appealing product. Unlike New Girl, however, it never quite materialized into something that demands to be seen, IMHO.

Such continues to be the case in this, the first episode of season 2, which finds Mindy happily enjoying her stint in Haiti alongside her reverend boyfriend before a case of gall stones quickly lands her right back in Manhattan where she started. “What a surprise,” says no one, “I really thought that season finale cliffhanger was going to take the show in a whole new direction.”

Same goes for the Reverend, whose time in this world is written on the wall. This show doesn’t really function with Mindy in a stable relationship, plus we’re obviously building towards the inevitable pairing with Chris Messina.

But hey, look who the cat dragged in? It’s James Franco, playing a James Franco-type doctor who is little more than a meta-caricature of role Franco plays on General Hospital. I’m glad we can look forward to his and Mindy’s witty banter before he signs off to produce his latest impressionist art installation. At least then we’ll get the joy of Adam Pally, who signed on for a season-two stint and who I see every night when I dream of a world where Happy Endings wasn’t canceled.

Grade: B

Class: Keep an Eye On

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Have you ever come across something for the very first time – a word, a song, a concept – and, having discovered it, realized that it’s everywhere around you?

For example, I only recently watched The Usual Suspects and no sooner had the final credits rolled that I found myself hearing references, seemingly everywhere, to Kaiser Soze. In fact, I read one such reference this morning in TIME magazine.

Or take humus, which I initially consumed at a pot luck work Christmas party in 2008. “What is this rapturous creation?” I asked (paraphrasing). “It’s humus,” the creator replied, with more than a hint of contempt in her voice for the uncultured rube she was conversing with.

Imagine my surprise then, when I realized that every gallery stroll, dinner party and grocery store in America features crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil and other spices. Weirder still, I had seen the movie Rat Race dozens of time but never grasped Jon Lovitz’ line, when he compares $2 million to “a lifetime supply of humus.” I could quote that dialogue, but I didn’t know what it meant.

Or take the last week of October, when I first encountered the word “Sapiosexual” on a woman’s Match.com profile. When I see a foreign word whilst using the computer I habitually open a tab and google the definition — because why not? – and was doubly curious because I naturally assumed it referred to something kinky, having discovered it on an online dating site.

Turns out “sapiosexual,” or the optional variant “sapiophile,” refers to a person who is attracted to intelligence above all other characteristic traits.

“Hmmm, never heard that one before,” I thought, before going my way on the information super highway. But since then I have encountered alleged sapiosexuals or references to sapiosexuality at least once per day. It’s apparently a very popular trope people use when describing themselves to the opposite gender.

This is great news for me, since I consider myself to be an intellectual person, or at the very least I’m smarter than I am muscular and wealthy, which one assumes are the other leading characteristic traits women are attracted to.

And yet I’m dubious of these women’s sapiophilic claims. The profile that served as a catalyst for this vernacular discovery was that of a woman taking a mirror selfie in a mini-skirt while most of the others I’ve seen feature women in low-cut tops posing in duckface behind a pair of hipster glasses.

Now, I’m not saying that women who are attracted to smart men don’t wear mini-skirts or low-cut tops – who would want to live in that world, amiright? – but I am most certainly implying an inverse correlation between the frequency of duckface and level of intelligence.

Mostly, however, I’m skeptical of anything people say about themselves online, since people lie and on the internet no one knows you’re a dog. So I decided to engage one of these women, to shed some light on the finer points of sapiosexuality.

Me: I see you’re a sapiophile. How exactly would you expect a man to demonstrate his intelligence?

I didn’t get a reply, but rest assured I will continue to explore this phenomenon further. I think the next sapiosexual I come across I’ll just message with a series of mathematical formulas and/or Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics.

After 9 months of this nonsense, I’ve found that my outgoing messages have lost some of their conversational prater in lieue of more direct inquiries. I’d like to think that’s because I’m of an inquisitive mind and not just because I’m a jaded skeptic who hates everyone and everything. For example, I recently matched on Tinder with a beautiful 25-year-old named Lindsey and sent the following:

photo 1

When I started writing this post, I hadn’t heard back from Lindsey. But in the time it took me to finish I received a reply so I suppose there’s some potential there.

photo 2

But I haven’t heard back in a while from a woman named Tammy, although that’s probably my fault for not ending with a question. Online dating is a lot like improv, only instead of “Yes, and…” you have to remember to always say “…how about you?”

Tammy: Hey I loved your profile and am interested in learning more about you. 🙂

Me: Hi! So you went from blonde to brunette (this was part of her profile), from an academic perspective, are you having less fun?

Tammy: Actually, I’m having more fun because it is such a big change. What about you? (see) Have you always loved the ukulele? When did you first begin to play?

Me: Yes, I’ve always loved the ukulele but I’ve only been playing for about two years. I first got into it because I moved to New York and couldn’t take my piano so I needed something portable I could play around on.

Tammy: What part of New York did you intern in? I recently got back from a vacation there and quite enjoyed it.

Me: I interned in Manhattan but lived in Queens.

Now yes, before you say it, if I wanted to keep talking to her I should have said something like “What did you do on your trip? Did you see any shows on Broadway? Did you go to Grand Central? Did you see a dead body like I did my first day in the city?” but I didn’t want to keep talking to her. Don’t judge, I’m only human.

But props to Tammy for being woman enough to start the conversation. That is an occurrence few and far between. I mean seriously ladies, what happened to that post-gender society you all claim to pushing for? What happened to Lean Forward? I swear, most the time I’m the biggest feminist in the room.

The other day a friend was telling me about how she met her boyfriend. The story began like this:

“He came up to me in a bar and asked me for a light and I told him that I couldn’t talk to him because I don’t talk to men who approach me in bars.”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “What?”

“Yeah. Guys who meet you in bars are creeps.”

“But that’s how you met your boyfriend?”

“Well yeah, he persisted, and he was the exception.”

“So how is an exception supposed to meet you if he happens to see you in a bar you’re both at?”

“I don’t know. He should wait till he sees me somewhere else.” 

I think the Catch-22 in that story is obvious enough that I don’t have to analyze it in detail. The other thing I find offensive as a man about the scenario is the notion that men are creeps until proven otherwise. I’m not saying that’s a false notion, but it sets up a losing game where we men begin with negative points and are only allowed to continue if we “persist” long enough to win the favor of our liege, like some kind of jester or dancing monkey.

Seriously, women of the world, hear me. There has to be a better way.

But back to My Life Online.

For a week or two I’ve been chatting with a nice red-headed bisexual named Rose. Our conversation started out ordinarily enough but has sinced veered off into a still-unfinished tangent about our shared Irish ancestry.

Now, I’m a big believer in the mantra of “to each his own” but even in optimum circumstances I doubt my mother would approve of Rose. Besides her sexual orientation – which I’d love to ask her about, from an academic perspective – Rose’s profile picture is a high-angle selfie of her in what appears to be only a bra and towel. A bold choice, IMHO, as the way to first present yourself to the online world.

I’m also beginning to realize that online dating functions as a stepping stone for many recent divorcees. I assume the logic is that they’re not quite ready to venture out into the world, so they use the chatting services provided by sites like Match and OkCupid to flex their social muscles in safety.

I assume that was the case with Stephanie, who describes herself as artsy, divorced and non-religious and whose occupation is “creature creator.” Our conversation took a strange turn rather quickly.

Me: What exactly is a creature creator?

Her: I do special effects make up and costume design and production for the film industry and larpers. I’ll sculpt a concept, mold it, cast it, and paint it. I just call myself a creature creator because it is much shorter.

Me: And cooler. I would imagine it’s tough to find industry work in Utah?

Her: It hasn’t been hard for me so far. I’m working on a music video tomorrow.

Her: I’m not looking forward to dating. I haven’t been on a date for a long time.

Her: That probably sounded wrong. I just wish it was easier to find someone I’m compatible with without a bunch of first dates.

I was a little thrown by this. I assumed she was talking in the abstract, but tone isn’t conveyed well via text. At this point I was already eyeing the door.

Me: For sure, first dates are excruciating. You’d think our society would have evolved beyond them by now 🙂

Her: I’m glad you knew what I meant by my statement. I didn’t mean I wouldn’t want a first date with you.

I know that I’ve long advocated for women to take a less passive role in dating, but this is not the way to do it. Plus, any continued interaction with Stephanie would have inevitably led to an increase of larping in my life. I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Another way to not do it? Whatever it was Julie intended by the message I received on September 12.

Julie: Hello, you caught my eye :$

I grew up in the internet age. I quite literally live in front of a computer screen. I have absolutely no idea what emotion a colon-dollar sign is supposed to convey.

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