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2010 Year End TV Review: Will Harris

You’d think it’d be easy for me to pull together a “Best TV of 2010” list, given that I’ve attended two TCA press tours (one in the winter, one in the summer), participated in two editions of Bullz-Eye’s TV Power Rankings (one in the spring, one in the fall), and pulled together the site’s annual Fall TV Preview, but damned if that doesn’t somehow make the task harder. Nobody likes to feel like they’re repeating themselves, and given that there’s going to be some inevitable content crossover between all of these various pieces, I often find myself bouncing back and forth between all of these features, wondering if I’m subconsciously recycling a particularly nice choice of phrase. Hopefully, I’ve managed to make this sound at least somewhat original, but if for some reason you feel I’ve failed at that endeavor, please, for God’s sake, don’t take it out on the shows. It’s not their fault, and they shouldn’t be held accountable for my lack of creativity.

Oh, and one other note: in a further effort to avoid conceptual duplication, I’ve only written about each show once, so if you see a show’s title without anything written beside it, look back and you’ll find where I’ve already written about it. That, or I screwed up. Either’s possible, really. (I’m only human, after all.)

Best Shows to Come and Go within 2010

1. Terriers (FX) – It’s a testament to the quality of “Terriers” that FX president John Landgraf held a teleconference with journalists after breaking the news of the series’ cancellation in order to explain his actions, but I don’t think anyone really blamed the guy, anyway: the show’s ratings were as deplorable as the writing was phenomenal. Between the awful ad campaign for the show (no, it wasn’t about dogs) and the fact that many of the viewers who did tune in were kind of bummed out by too-real character traits and developments like alcoholism, infidelity, divorce, and mental illness, it’s not a surprise that it wasn’t a huge hit. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
2. Lone Star (Fox) – I’d like to think that this “Dallas”-esque series about a con man leading two lives would’ve been battling with “Terriers” for the top spot if only Fox hadn’t canceled it after only two episodes…but, then, if they can’t canceled it after only two episodes, then maybe viewers might’ve embraced “Lone Star” enough that it wouldn’t have been canceled at all. Oh, wait, never mind, I forgot: it was on Fox, so it probably still would’ve been canceled, anyway. Even so, Kyle Killen provided an intriguing concept and delivered it with the help of a top-notch cast. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of it.

3. Warren the Ape (MTV) – So falls another network effort by one of our favorite fabricated Americans. Greg the Bunny couldn’t keep a show alive on either Fox or IFC, but it really seemed like a given that the shenanigans of Warren the Ape were tailor-made for MTV viewers. Not so, apparently. Frankly, the whole thing smacks of anti-puppetism. Warren himself has conceded that “fabricated Americans still have a very long way to go in this country, and I think it’s always going to be an uphill battle.” How right he was.
4. Happy Town (ABC) – Note to ABC’s publicity department: while I appreciate your intentions when you underlined the comparisons between “Happy Town” and “Twin Peaks” with a giant Magic Marker, you have to expect that “Twin Peaks” fans are going to offer up their equivalent of the old “I knew Jack Kennedy” line. Yeah, I know, you only meant it as a point of reference, and you never intended to imply that the two series were on even creative footing, but try telling them that. For my part, I thought it was a creepy little sleeper of a show…but, unfortunately, the other five people who agreed with me weren’t enough to keep it on the air.

5. Sons of Tucson (Fox) – I’m still not quite sure what Fox was thinking by trying to slot this poor live-action sitcom into the midst of their otherwise-animated Sunday night line-up. Maybe they’d hoped it would instill viewers with a bit of nostalgia for the days of “Malcolm in the Middle,” given the similarity in feel between that show and “Tucson.” If so, the plan failed miserably. In a perfect world, the network would raise the series from the dead and team it with “Raising Hope.” Now that’s a double bill I could get behind.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.12 – Life’s a Funny Proposition After All

Welcome, my friends, to the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire.” I really haven’t a clue how many of you there actually are, but given how few comments I’ve been getting, I have to figure that it isn’t a huge number. Still, I’ve been trudging ever onward, mostly because HBO has been kind enough to provide me with the episodes far enough in advance that I generally haven’t had to stay awake into the wee hours of Sunday evenings to finish up my blogs. Tonight, however, all of America’s TV critic stand on even footing, watching the finale at the same time as everyone else…or, in my case, slightly later. I was away on a brief vacation – except not really, since it was a trip that I’m going to end up writing about for Bullz-Eye, thereby making it a work-related excursion – and literally walked in the door just as the finale was kicking off, and it’s taken me ’til now (10:50 PM EST) to finally get myself wound down from my flight, grab a snack and a drink, and settle in to write.

When we first see Agent Van Alden this evening, he’s quoting St. Augustine. Moments later, he’s smacking the living shit out of a potential new recruit and lying about Agent Sepso’s cause of death, claiming it was a heart attack rather than, y’know, at Van Alden’s own hand. Clearly, he’s losing it…oh, who are we kidding? He lost it long ago. One presumes, however, that a certain part of him knows he’s losing it, as he’s decided to depart the bureau. I can’t see him getting away with having murdered Sepso, however. Not with all of those witnesses.

Nucky’s pretty pissed off about the current state of affairs in the mayoral race of Atlantic City, with the democratic candidate, Fletcher, poised to take home the victory. In asking his team – which includes Chalky White – to hunt up as many potential voters as possible for his candidate, Bader, Nucky’s seething with anger over the goings-on his personal life is palpable, and it doesn’t help that he’s being constantly told that his decision to remove Eli was a wrong one. Chalky admits, however, that Fletcher’s people have approached him in an attempt to get him to use his sway with his “people” and get them to vote for him. In truth, however, he says he’s only doing it for the money, that he’s really doing it for Nucky…particularly if he can get a little bit more money out of the deal. In addition to the money, Chalky wants a new car and an invitation to the new mayor’s victory party. Nucky said it’s tough to promise the latter, but Chalky calmly suggests it’s probably in both their best interests if he comes through.

Although she’s evacuated from the love nest provided to her by Nucky, Margaret and her kids are still in the general area, hanging out with Nan, mother of Warren Harding’s love child. Nan’s still quite naive, the poor thing, expecting to hear from Harding any day now. (Yeah, right…) As such, she can only offer Margaret a place to stay for a few more days, focusing on her future as a resident of the White House. In the meantime, Margaret keeps her chin up as best she can, baking a barn brack but clearly worrying a bit about her new friend’s state of mind.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.11 – Thou Hast Fulfilled the Judgment of the Wicked

At last, after several references to him during the course of the season, we finally get a first-hand look at Hardeen, brother of Houdini. His performance, while ostensibly impressive, receives little more than a yawn from Nucky. Margaret, meanwhile, is on the verge of offering a standing ovation. Harry and Annabelle are also in attendance, with Harry looking particularly nervous. He claims it’s because it makes him nervous to see Hardeen tied up. I’m skeptical. I don’t know what’s going on, but Harry’s clearly up to something…

Angela’s drifting off in thought while sitting at the dinner table, which really apparently pisses off Jimmy. Fair enough: he’s still smarting from the situation with the photographer, clearly distrusting his wife despite her assurances that she never slept with the man…which is true insofar as it goes, but let’s not go there right now. What’s more important is that he receives a phone call. It sounds like business, but he says it was his mother, letting him know that his father is dying. Given that Jimmy seemed to have viewed Nucky as a father figure when the season kicked off, I think it’s fair to say that the bond between him and his real father must be pretty weak.

Agents Van Alden and Sepso are enjoying a spot of Chinese when Van Alden unsurprisingly turns the topic of conversation to that of Sepso having killed Billy, and it’s not exactly what you’d call a polite dinnertime chat. Sepso maintains his cool, relatively speaking, but it’s clear that this won’t be the last time Van Alden brings up the matter.

The evening with Hardeen continues beyond his proper show, as he entertains the troops back at Nucky’s place. Once again, Margaret and Annabelle are enthralled, while Nucky shrugs and Harry sweats. It’s pretty funny to watch Hardeen play up his reputation even as he plays down his brother’s, but the fun stops when Harry explodes and at least explains why he’s been looking so sketchy all night: he’s lost a huge amount of money at the hands of one Charles Ponzi…and if the name sounds familiar, yes, he is the one who gave name to the so-called Ponzi Scheme, which most recently came to prominence via Bernie Madoff. So much for the relationship between Harry and Annabelle, eh?

Rothstein gets word from Chicago that things ain’t looking good for him with the whole Black Sox situation. His attorney suggests that he heads to Chi-Town, but to make sure he knows someone in the city who’s willing to do him a favor. Will it be Capone or Torrio?

No, The Commodore’s not dead yet, but you can’t blame his maid for fearing the worst. I mean, the guy’s already sick, and then his dog dies…? Talk about the kind of thing to send a guy into a tailspin. But, wait, who’s the Commodore’s guest? Jimmy?!? Wait a minute: Jimmy’s the Commodore’s son? Did we already know this? I’m pretty sure we didn’t. (Given the predilection of the majority of this blog’s few readers to only comment when they have a chance to criticize or complain, I can only presume someone will quickly confirm if I’m wrong.) Boy, Jimmy’s really pissed off that he’s had to make this visit, and it’s clear that he won’t miss his father when he’s gone. How else to explain the fact that, when the Commodore says he’s dying, Jimmy’s only response is to say, “Well, then, I will call you a priest.” Still, when the Commodore adds that the wrong person is running Atlantic City, it causes such mixed feelings in Jimmy that he promptly pukes. Still, I guess it would be a little confusing to realize that a man you’ve loathed for decades could well be the one who holds the key to the future you’ve been seeking.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.10 – “That’s Mommy’s kissing friend!”

At last, the spotlight is placed back onto Richard Harrow…and, wow, how utterly depressing it must be for him to go from a dreamworld where he’s still the man he used to be back into a reality where his face frightens children. Nucky looked like he might’ve been as least slightly more sympathetic about the situation than Margaret was (which stands to reason, given that it was her daughter who had the bejeezus scared out of her), but he’s right: after his assassination attempt last week, they are already on edge. Hearing the shriek of her child no doubt stopped Margaret’s heart cold.

Sepso’s trying to look as utterly innocent as possible as he swears up and down that he had no choice but to kill Billy in self-defense, even going so far as to claim that the incident will haunt him for the rest of his days, but Van Alden’s expression when Sepso’s exonerated reveals that he doesn’t even remotely believe him, and he only gets more exasperated and infuriated as he’s accused of being a bungler. He’s got one more chance before his career comes crumbling down around him…and, boy, does he know it. The later scene with him flipping through his paperwork, trying desperately to find a way to bring down Nucky, is pitiful.

Angela’s painting a peaceful beach scene when Jimmy emerges from the bedroom for his first cigarette of the day and compliments her on her artwork. She seems mildly surprised that he’s even been paying attention. When he first started groping on her, I thought she was getting annoyed, but instead she found herself titillated to the point of letting her canvas clatter to the floor and allowing Jimmy to have his way with her. Clearly, their relationship is getting at least somewhat back on track.

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Boardwalk Empire 1.9 – The Road to Oz

Eli may still be stuck in bed, recovering from his gunshot wounds, but he’s doing well enough to finger the guys responsible for taking him down while robbing the casino: the D’Alessio brothers. Their reputation as a bunch of full-fledged thugs more than precedes them, and Eli wants them taken down before they do any more damage. (The Thompsons’ take on criminal activity is of a much higher class, you know.) Nucky, however, is concerned about a mayoral candidate named Derwood Fletcher who’s been talking about all the corruption in the city. Eli shrugs it off, but Nucky’s concerned about how it’s going to affect the election. Something tells me that Eli’s desire to get out there and perform a bit of spin control is only going to backfire. I don’t know if it’ll damage Nucky’s career or Eli’s health, but I just can’t imagine something’s not going to suffer as a result.

Meanwhile, on the boardwalk, Nan Britton – a.k.a. Warren Harding’s mistress – is musing to Margaret about how Warren’s love for her can’t compete for his love of America…not that she’s rationalizing her situation. They soon pop into Margaret’s former place of employment in order to get Nan a few new frocks, but Margaret also gets an earful from Madame Jeunet, who complains how much of her income goes straight into Nucky’s pocket. Oh, that woman: her complaints are valid, but the way she’s trying to play Margaret is despicable.

Hey, look, Jimmy’s back in Jersey! Once again, he confirms that his family isn’t his priority by conceding to Nucky that he came straight from the train station to his office. As I suspected last week, Richard Harrow is going to play a part, with Jimmy telling Nucky that he wants Richard to help him on the D’Alessio job. It’s interesting that Jimmy wants Nucky to admit outright that he wants him to kill the brothers, then makes a face when he gets confirmation that “the kid” has a death sentence as well. Criminals have the strangest take on ethics.

Speaking of the D’Alessios, they’re meeting with Rothstein, who clearly outclasses them by about 10:1, if not more. He knows it, too. First, he underlines the fact that he’s got a reputation to uphold, thereby indicating that he’s not sure they won’t embarrass him, then he discusses the methods of making money via bootlegging in such a way that he gives hem the opportunity to put their foot in their mouth with their stupidity. He wants to set up a scotch-importing business, and he’s hopeful that they might be able to assist him in bypassing Nucky in the equation, though he has them sign insurance policies to cover his bases. I had to laugh at Rothstein’s closing joke about the monkeys at the zoo, because he’s right: he and the D’Alessios are two completely different species of criminals.

I like how Nucky’s a fan of L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books. I don’t know if you’ve read anything beyond the original “Wizard of Oz,” but there’s some really great stuff to be found in Baum’s exploration of the land of Oz…but I digress. He and Margaret soon descend into a political discussion, where Nucky lays out his theory on politicians: “If we only elected good men, we’d never have leaders.” Is that an original quote? Somehow, it seems too profound for Nucky. The topic quickly shifts to Madame Jeunet and her business, causing Nucky to tense up at the unsuitable nature of the topic and leave abruptly. Whoops: power struggle in the Thompson house.

Angela looks horribly uncomfortable with a man’s arm around her, doesn’t she? Not so when she’s being kissed by another woman, though. Hello, menage a troi…? If so, it’s going to be a decidedly uneven affair. But, no, the proceedings are interrupted by the return of Jimmy, who’s acting pretty shitty for someone who’s been away from home and virtually incommunicado for as long as he has. Her friends make a hasty departure, leaving Jimmy and Angela to…interact? I don’t really know what you’d call it. It hardly starts off as consensual, but it appears to end up that way, unless she’s just resigned to her fate.

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