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“Terriers” is getting good

I had high expectations for FX’s new series, “Terriers,” which was created by Ted Griffin, the writer of “Oceans Eleven” and “Matchstick Men.” It stars Donal Logue, whose work I enjoyed on “The Knights of Prosperity,” “Grounded for Life” and “The Tao of Steve.” He’s a talented actor who can play both the lovable protagonist and the arrogant asshole. He plays a former cop (and recovering alcoholic, sigh) Hank Dolworth who now works as an unlicensed private detective. His partner in crime is a former thief (played by Michael Raymond-James, who first hit my radar as the serial killer Rene on “True Blood”) and the two work together on shady cases in Ocean Beach, California.

The first couple of episodes were just okay, as Logue’s character spent a lot of time worrying about his ex-wife, her new fiance and their old house that was up for sale. The writing wasn’t terribly tight, either. After he ‘bought’ the house, he was able to move in before escrow even closed, which definitely doesn’t happen in real life.

Anyway, I stuck with the series, and in the fourth installment a previous job reemerged and took over the storyline for two more episodes, getting the investigators in some deep doo-doo in the process. The arc felt an episode of “The Shield,” where Vic Mackey had to spend two hours trying to clean up a mess that he created…if it were written by Elmore Leonard.

Like “Oceans Eleven,” the show moves at a fast pace and I enjoy how it camps out in the grey area of life with a serialized format — like the rest of FX’s stable of shows (specifically “Rescue Me,” “The Shield,” and “Justified”). This isn’t a story about a man in a white hat taking on a bad guy in a black hat. Just like Tommy Gavin, Vic Mackey and Raylen Givens, Hank Dolworth is a complicated man, and it typically takes him more than an hour to work out his issues.

So if you elect to give “Terriers” a shot, or if you already gave up after the first or second episode, stick around until the end of the fifth episode, and then make up your mind. Other than “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Event,” the fall season doesn’t seem to have much to offer in the realm of new dramas, but “Terriers” deserves consideration.

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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This Tuesday in TV-DVD – Nov. 3, 2009

* The Rockford Files: Movie Collection, Vol. 1: It’s like I said in my review: if these movies aren’t necessarily up to the standards of the original series – and let’s face it: they often aren’t – it’s so good to see James Garner, Stuart Margolin, and Joe Santos back in their familiar roles that it hardly matters.

* The Shield: The Complete Series Collection: Similarly, I’ll let Jason’s review speak for this set. “From its great ensemble cast and the memorable group of characters they portrayed, to the writing team’s ability to consistently hammer out quality and controversial storylines, ‘The Shield’ is by far one of the best cop dramas ever produced. Nay, one of the best dramas, period. It may not have gotten the attention it deserved during its seven years on the air, but its release on DVD will ensure that the legacy lives on for many years to come. If nothing else, you can expect it to be heavily referenced when the next great cop drama arrives on television, because while ‘The Shield’ may not have invented the wheel, it definitely burned the rubber off the tires enough times for people to take notice.” I have no doubt that he’s right. And one of these days, maybe I’ll even get a chance to sit down and watch it myself.

* Will Ferrell: You’re Welcome, America – A Final Night with George W. Bush: Adam McKay described Ferrell’s one-man Broadway show as “one of those great projects where you really walk in not at all caring about what the critics are going to say.” That’s probably a good thing, given what Jeff Giles, has to say about it. (To be fair, though, even McKay admitted that, although “the director of our special, Marty Callner, did an amazing job, nothing ever matches the live experience. The people who saw it live had a totally different reaction to it.”)

* Mission: Impossible – The Final TV Season: By the time this, the show’s seventh season, rolled around, you needed a formal checklist to cite all of the people whose departure left fans saying that it “hasn’t been the same since.” There’s no Martin Landau, no Barbara Bain…even Leonard Nimoy was gone by this point. But, hey, the big three – Peter Graves, Greg Morris, and Peter Lupus – are still around, with Lynda Day George serving as the season’s predominant femme fatale. Now that the whole series is available, when are we going to get the 1988 revival released on DVD?

* Spin City: Season Three: Shout Factory must’ve blown its whole bonus-material budget for the show on the Season 1 set, because we haven’t seen a single special feature since, but at least the comedy keeps on coming.

* Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Complete Season One: Your mileage on this show varies by how much you can stand of George Lucas’s prequels, but at the very least, it looks and sounds good.

* Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro – The Complete First Season / Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro – The Complete Second Season: Once upon a time, when Antonio Banderas was merely a twinkle in his father’s eye, Guy Williams was dressed in black and bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “cutting Z’s.” As usual, you can count on Disney to hook you up with a plethora of classic bonus material.

* Doctor Who: The War Games / Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy: What the…? Our man Ross has written full-length reviews for both sets? I am shocked. Shocked. Sounds like “The Black Guardian Trilogy” might be pretty good if you just skipped over the middle part of the trilogy. As for “The War Games,” while Ross says it’s “difficult to recommend…to people unfamiliar with it,” it’s a fantastic set for fans, and “the transfer and restoration work are just freaking gorgeous.”

* Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection: Dance your cares away, worries for another day, and let the music play down in Fraggle Rock for as long as you can stand to watch. But given that it’s a Jim Henson production, you can probably stand to watch for a very long time, indeed. Actually, this isn’t the first time we’ve been offered a complete-series set for this show, but as someone who owns the notebook-styled version that came out last year, where the DVDs fall out way too easily, I can assure you that you’ll be a lot better off if you pick up this one instead.

* G.I. Joe: Resolute: I haven’t seen this Cartoon Network series, nor have I seen the new movie, but I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to suggest that this might be better than the movie. Or, at least, that’s the buzz, anyway.

Other releases this week:

* Ruby-Spears Superman:
* Here’s Lucy: Season 2:
* The Donna Reed Show: Season 3
* Art 21: Season 5
* Edge of Darkness: The Complete BBC Series

And – ho, ho, ho! – a trio of holiday releases for the kiddies:

* Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure
* Thomas & Friends: Holiday Express
* Merry Sitcom! Christmas Classics from TV’s Golden Age

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Sons of Anarchy 2.1 – Albification

Kurt Sutter’s “Sons of Anarchy” was hands-down my favorite new show of last year – not much of a surprise considering my undying loyalty to “The Shield” – but I never actually got around to watching the first episode until a few days after it aired, and as a result, I wasn’t able to blog the series like I had planned. This year is a little different, however, as FX has hooked us up with advance copies of the first few episodes. I probably still won’t be blogging every week, or even as in-depth as my other TV blogs, but I’m going to try to discuss the show in some aspect whenever I can, and tonight’s season premiere is the perfect jumping off point.

A lot went down at the end of Season One, but nothing quite as shocking as the death of Opie’s wife, Donna. Though Clay and Tig are still trying to play off the murder as retaliation from one of their rival gangs, Jax and Piney know the truth behind the botched assassination attempt. Piney wants to take action immediately, and rightfully so, but Jax warns against such hostility because it would only set Clay off and cause further damage. For the time being, they both have to accept Clay’s decision to pin the murder on some unsuspecting Mayan, and Jax even accompanies Opie to help kill the guy lest he learn the real truth. Obviously, this is going to play a huge part in the upcoming season, but I’m betting Sutter will let it just sit there and simmer for a while before acting on it. In fact, considering it’s a subplot that could prove to be a real game changer for the make-up of the series, I wouldn’t completely dismiss Sutter pushing it off until next season. After all, he has plenty to keep the Sons busy for the time being.

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Not only do the Sons have to rethink their gun-running business now that they’re on ATF’s radar, but a new group of Neo-Nazis have arrived in town, and they don’t like that SAMCRO is selling guns to the black and Latino gangs around Charming. Though their attempt to win over the support of Deputy Hale doesn’t go over quite like they imagined (my guess is that he’ll end up helping the Sons more than he’d like), they’ve already stirred up trouble with Clay and Co. by crashing Bobby’s welcoming home soiree. Sure, the leader of the group, Ethan Zobelle (Adam Arkin), seems to be little more than a slimy, Aceveda-esque politician, but his right-hand man, AJ Weston (Henry Rollins), looks like a real force to be reckoned with.

It certainly helps that Rollins plays the guy like an emotionless pit bull that’s been restrained by a heavy-duty chain, but he eventually shows he has a mind of his own when he goes on a rant about how he pulled his son out of Tee Ball after he learned they were encouraging equality by giving trophies to everyone. He then follows that up by telling Darby to cover up his swastika tattoo – not because he should be ashamed of wearing it in front of his Latino workers, but because, get this, he hasn’t earned it yet. Talk about your hardcore skinheads, this guy is pure evil. And as if hasn’t already proven to be a thorn in Clay’s side, he’s about to really heat things up now that he’s kidnapped Gemma and gang-raped her. I’m still not exactly sure what the point of them wearing masks was (other than a cool shout-out to “Halloween”), since he eventually gave up his identity by telling Gemma to pass on a message to Clay, but one thing is for sure: these skinheads are definitely not leaving Charming in anything other than a body bag once Clay catches wind of what they’ve done. Are you paying attention Emmy voters? This is how you start a season off with a bang.

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TCA Tour: “Lie to Me”

“Lie to Me” is a series which I would’ve watched a heck of a lot more if it hadn’t always been up against a series that I already had an existing addiction to, but every episode that I did see was enjoyable, so I’ve already got my order in for a copy of the Season 1 set, so that I can be properly prepped for Season 2. There’s also another really good reason to be ready for the show’s sophomore outing: they’ve added Shawn Ryan – a.k.a. the man behind “The Shield” – to the series’ production team.

How did such a thing come to pass? In a nutshell, Samuel Baum asked him to join, and although the two hadn’t really known each other, Ryan was swayed both by a sudden opening in his schedule and the company Baum was keeping.

“I came out and helped out a little bit on the last couple episodes as a favor to the studio,” explained Ryan. “I didn’t really know Sam, but I had a couple of my old ‘Shield’ writers who were over there, and I thought, ‘Well, that will be cool.’ I enjoyed it: I got to meet Tim and the rest of the cast, I dug the show. ‘The Unit’ was unceremoniously dumped by CBS, so I suddenly found myself with a little time, and I thought I could bring something to the show. It was something that excited me. You see the actors here: it’s an incredible cast, and I just want to get to know these characters better. And believe me, there’s enough work on a TV show for both Sam and I. So it really is a very cooperative, very friendly relationship. There was no “All About Eve” sort of situation here. There’s plenty for both of us do. In terms of what I think I might bring to it, I think I’m trying to push it a little bit more in a character direction, add a little bit of adrenaline to the show, but really sort of dig deep.”

So by “adrenaline,” are we talking more explosions, or what?

“No, no, I don’t mean that exactly,” Ryan said. ” Listen, the show is ultimately based on a group of scientists. And Mekhi (Phifer) plays a character who is not a scientist. But the fact is they are people who are diving into the middle of charge cases and accusing people of being liars. That can lead to consequences. So I don’t mean adrenaline in a ‘Shield’ sense or a ’24′ sense, but they are going to put themselves in some emotionally and physically harrowing situations at times. And I think the pace of the show will increase slightly. And we have a lot of story to tell, and I just think there’s some juice that can be added to the show in a fun way.”

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