October 2, 2014

A to Z: "A Is for Acquaintances"

Almost accidentally, I watched the new NBC show A to Z tonight. I stumbled upon a few reviews of the show yesterday, and happened to be home tonight, so I watched it. And I'm glad I did. Starring Cristin Milioti (Yes, the mother) and Ben Feldman (who played one of the most fascinating characters on Mad Men), A to Z is quirky, original, and charming.

Source: nbc.com
The pilot episode could almost be a self-contained romantic comedy. In it, Andrew and Zelda meet, and after a series of missteps they are guided by destiny to a point where - SPOILER - they seem to be a couple. But the audience is also informed that the two will date for "eight months, three weeks, five days, and one hour." We're promised a "comprehensive" look at their relationship.

This setup, while intriguing, worries me a little, because we all know what happens when writers try to plan the end of a show from the beginning... The toss of the coin here is what will happen when those eight months, three weeks, etc. are over. Will they split? Marry? Some other unknown option? And will knowing that we only have eight months together make me love the show more? Or make me willing to part with it sooner?

There is so much room for this show to go horribly, awfully, wrong. But I, like Andrew in his search for love, am optimistic. These two title characters are so delightfully cute together. Never have two pairs of doe-eyes been so captivating. The episode also featured what I assume was a one-time guest performance by Lea Thompson, playing herself, in a quirky subplot homage to Back to the Future, which somehow worked. All of this might even make up for the fact that the secondary characters are such a yawn. While the premise may be original, television tropes abound in Stu and Stephie, the best friends of our A and Z.

The pilot of A to Z felt new and exciting, and made me smile. (Not unlike the sort of new relationship Andrew and Zelda are beginning.) But here's what I think: For the show to work, it needs to take the viewer through all the emotions a relationship brings, not just the enjoyable ones. I want it to be real. This is a show I would be willing to become emotionally invested in because I think it has an interesting story to tell - the story of what happens next. What happens after the credits roll at the end of your favorite romantic comedy? I think A to Z might have the answer.

August 20, 2014

What I Watched Over Summer Vacation

As you may have noticed, Rabbit Ear Reviews has been on a bit of a hiatus for the summer. The Network TV options were a total bust the past few months. Even Under The Dome, which I reviewed multiple times last year, failed to draw me in with its second season. That, combined with its rather inconvenient airtime, made it an easy show to give up.  But, never fear! Though my Rabbit Ears have taken a break, I've been busy doing a lot of TV watching via the internet, and I thought I would update you on some of my summer favorites.

Coincidentally, these shows all air(ed) on one of the networks I tune into least often - FOX. Looks like that won't be the case for long… 

The Mindy Project

Rabbit Ear Reviews loves The Mindy Project, which returns to Fox Tuesdays this September!
Source: facebook.com/TheMindyProject
Why I didn't watch this show from the moment it premiered is anyone's guess. This gem of a sitcom comes from The Office's Mindy Kaling, and brings the audience real laughs as it warms our hearts. Mindy plays a gynecologist also named Mindy who rather awkwardly navigates a love life that makes me feel a whole lot better about my own.

A friend of mine rightly noted that The Mindy Project "does the will-they-or-won't-they better than most." I'd argue that's because they don't try to hide it. From the pilot, Mindy has been blatantly expository in her desires for a classic story of true love, and the show openly plays homage to the greatest romantic comedy films - chiefly When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. That said, though, Mindy's life never turns out like the rom-coms she adores. Her relationships - even the good ones - are thoroughly flawed and follow uncertain, sometimes unhappy paths. But that doesn't mean they aren't funny.

Chris Messina's Danny is charming in all the most atypical ways. He's an unlikely leading man, a curmudgeon without any particular charisma, which makes him all the more believable among this larger-than-life cast of characters. Whether they are friendly, flirty, or fighting, Danny and Mindy are magnificent together. Add to that a world full of supporting actors who can hold their own beside Kaling, and you've got TV casting at its finest. If you are a fan of The Office, you'll also see some familiar faces guest starring (and co-starring) throughout the first and second seasons.

It's got heart and a sense of humor. A comedy that's more than just romantic. Simply put, The Mindy Project is a show you can't miss.

Where to watch: Catch up on Hulu Plus or fox.com, and check it out when it returns for a third season on Tuesday, Sept. 16.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was one of Rabbit Ear Reviews' summer faves! It returns to Fox Sundays this fall.
Source: facebook.com/BrooklynNineNine
I caught this show mid-season and already have reviewed it once here on Rabbit Ear Reviews. This summer, I found time to catch  up on the first half of Season 1, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. This workplace comedy hints back to executive producer Michael Schur's past endeavors (The Office, Parks and Rec), but doesn't follow those shows' documentary format; it has its own unique feel. This is probably because of star Andy Samberg. The SNL alum plays a lovable winner who loses just often enough to keep him humble.

With a supporting cast of comedically talented performers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine delivers. Unlike The Mindy Project, BNN's setting - NYC's 99th precinct - is often key in the story. Most episodes follow traditional police procedural plot lines, but with a humor more reminiscent of Chuck than Law and Order. For fans of both Mindy and Brooklyn, here's some exciting news: according to Mindy Kaling's Facebook page, we may be in for a crossover episode this season.

Before it returns, consider catching up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine's debut season online. This Golden-Globe winning show is worth your time, and I have nothing but high hopes and higher expectations for its sophomore year.

Where to watch: Hulu Plus hosts Season 1, and rotating episodes are also on fox.com.

The X-Files

One of Rabbit Ear Reviews' favorite classics? The X-Files! A great summer binge-watch.
Source: tv.com/shows/the-xfiles
When this classic FOX sic-fi drama first aired, I was outside its target demographic by like, a generation. The glimpses of it I caught as a kid both intrigued and frightened me. And I'll be the first to admit that, even as an adult, there are episodes that have given me nightmares. But this show is great enough that none of that matters. It's timeless in a way that nineties TV rarely seems to be, despite the frequent use of landlines and the frequent wearing of trench coats with shoulder pads.

I'm about halfway through its nine season run, and can say that The X-Files gives its viewers both horror and humor. One episode I recall being particularly suspenseful is Season 1, episode 11, "Eve." In it, danger takes the guise of innocence, and while the characters remain oblivious to the threat, the audience has an awareness advantage. But some of my favorite episodes have been the funny ones: "Jose Chung's from Outer Space" is a commentary on the unreliability of witness testimony, and lets the viewer know that The X-Files is as much in on the sci-fi joke as it is the target of it. "Bad Blood," an episode that centers on vampirism, hilariously contrasts the personalities and perspectives of Mulder and Scully. In addition to giving us this fantastic moment, the episode guest stars a very young Luke Wilson.

And Wilson's not the only one. Just about any actor who's anyone or became anyone guest starred on the show. Not that this detracts from the leads. I can pretty much guarantee that any viewer will fall in love with one of the two main characters before too long. It's clear that this show lasted so long because it deserved to. In the era before ensemble casts, The X-Files really relied only on Duchovny and Anderson to keep it moving, and these two unbelievably talented actors made that look effortless. 

Where to watch: Find the complete series on Amazon Prime Instant and Netflix.

June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day - Celebrating TV Dads

On this Father's Day, I'd like to take a moment to talk about some great TV fathers. Before you read on, I'll acknowledge that this post leans toward father-daughter relationships. It's partly because I'm a daughter, but it's also because it was hard to think of very many father-son TV relationships that were particularly commendable. Anyway, here they are: five of my favorite dads of the small screen!

The All-American Dad
Source: abc.com
Mike Heck - The Middle
Along with Jay Pritchett and Phil Dunphy, a modern ABC sitcom father who should enter the annals of Great TV Dad history is Mike Heck. Sure, this middle-aged middle-class Dad may not be a warm, cuddly father. And yeah, he makes his share of mistakes. Once he even admitted he had a favorite kid - in front of the other two kids. But he also goes out of his way to support his children when they need it - agreeing to coach a soccer team of cliquey teen girls so Sue would have a chance to play. Standing up for awkward little Brick when he believes he's being picked on. Laying down the law for lazy Axl. But perhaps more importantly, Mike loves his kids' mother, Frankie, even when she's stressed or sad. He's your average family man. That's what makes him great.

The Funny Father 
Source: cbs.com
Simon Roberts - The Crazy Ones
I am super disappointed that this Robin Williams headlined show has been cancelled. Poor Sarah Michelle Gellar can't seem to catch a break. In any case, Simon's greatest strength as a father was, not surprisingly, Robin Williams's greatest strength as an actor - that perfect combination of silly and sweet. Simon, father to Gellar's Sydney, consistently brought the humor to their charming relationship, which, yes, left Sydney to bring the common sense. The two of them played on the whole "bringing up father" role reversal in a workplace environment, incorporating the familial aspects of a sitcom in hilarious ways. Despite their dysfunction, these two characters effectively balance out one another's strengths and weaknesses, a quality indicative of a healthy father-daughter relationship. It only lasted a season, but The Crazy Ones is worth your time.

The Father Who Knew Best
Source: thetvmouse.com
Jack Bristow - Alias
Next on my list of great TV dads is another father of a Sydney - the humorless Jack Bristow. Half the time we didn't trust him, and when we did, we weren't sure that we should. But even when his actions seemed altogether villainous, Jack really did have Sydney's best interest at heart. He may be the dad on this list with the most faults, but his status as super spy makes up for that. The times he saved Sydney's life are too many to mention, let alone count. And if there's a father out there who needs a tutorial in scaring off daughters' boyfriends, he need look no further than Jack's phone conversation with Sydney's fiancĂ© Danny in the pilot episode. He may have an icy exterior, but Jack Bristow has a warm heart once you realize he's one of the good guys.

The Dad Who Stopped at Nothing
Source: ew.com
If there's a TV Dad who deserves credit for trying, it's Michael. First, he had to fix the relationship with an estranged son he never wanted to part from in the first place. Then, compounding the whole deserted island problem, poor Walt gets kidnapped. But Michael never gives up the search for his little boy. Yes, he is determined to a fault. (Actually, he might have more faults than Jack, because yeah, did commit a double homicide there in the hatch.) In the end, getting Walt off the island might not have been Michael's best decision, but he did what he thought he had to do in the near impossible situation the story handed him. 

The Single Dad Who Did it All
Source: facebook.com/VeronicaMars
Keith Mars - Veronica Mars
Television is chock-full of awkward father-daughter relationships. Suburgatory's George and Tessa have a chemistry can hit the viewer strangely given the actors' small age difference (Jane Levy is just 15 years younger than Sisto.) The fact that Tessa calls her father by his first name doesn't help.  Nashville's Deacon and Maddie are awkwardly navigating the new father-daughter relationship they've discovered in a manner all-to-akin to dating. But then there's Keith Mars, father to Veronica, girl detective. Keith was always the right combination of strict and empowering.  In TV terms, he managed to maintain his own storylines all the while supporting hers.  The scene when the two of them confirm their biological relationship was the most moving moment this emotion-laden show saw. Well, either that or when he saved her life at the end of Season 1. In times of trouble, Keith was strong for his daughter, and the best single dad TV has ever seen.

Have a favorite TV dad who's not on this list? Tell us about him in the comments!

June 3, 2014

Finale Reviews: Nashville Season 2 - "On the Other Hand"

Nashville's Season 2 finale cemented what was perhaps already certain - Chris Carmack is the MVP of this show. And his character, Will Lexington, has got nothing but trouble coming toward him now. Yes, Season 1's finale left Rayna in a coma and Juliette an orphan, but Will's fate at the end of the second season hit the audience (well, me, at least) harder than those cliffhangers did. In part, it was the inevitability of his fate. This far into the plot, Will had made too many missteps to keep his secret hidden for much longer. Even more painful, though, is the fact that it will be Will himself who reveals it all. And he has outed himself to the world in a moment he thought was private. Chris Carmack delivered that moment with such heartbreak and humanity, not unlike his moment on the tracks a year ago. Only now we know his heartbreak won't be hidden anymore. It was devastating. And acted so devastatingly well.

Of course the real MVP of Nashville is the music, which consistently articulates what the show's dialogue can't seem to, and allows the actors to deliver emotion in a way that makes the show utterly unique among its soapy ABC brethren. The music of the finale was no exception. Scarlett and Gunnar's beautiful Bluebird duet of "It Ain't Yours to Throw Away" was a haunting backdrop to the destruction in Will's life and Juliette's, too.

This duet opened with a cinematic moment that deserves mentioning. It was only for a moment, but before they begin singing, the two characters faced each other in one room, but illuminated by opposite lights. The melancholy, pensive poet, Scarlett, was spotlighted in blue, while Gunnar stood in a glowing red. They were separated almost exactly down the center of the shot by a single strand of white Christmas lights. It was marvelous. Symbolic of their differences, and the distance between them, yet as full of warmth as the song that would follow. (Unfortunately, it happens right before video above starts, 36 minutes and 33 seconds into the episode, if you're curious.)

Now, as much as I enjoyed "On the Other Hand," I have a few problems with the episode. First: for much of the 42 minutes, the show business aspect of the plot centered around sales of the characters' digital singles in order to top the charts. Not only were the mechanics of this not clearly explained for an audience unfamiliar with the concept, but in the end, chart-topping wasn't even particularly important to the movement of the story. It just took up minutes I would have rather spent hearing a longer conversation between Scarlett and Avery.

Second: I don't usually comment on the wardrobe aspects of TV shows, because I am vastly under qualified to do so. (I wish frequenting wornontv.net qualified one to speak about such things, but alas…) However, I just gotta say, what the heck was going on with the hats in this episode?! First, Gunnar has that Charlie Chaplin number somehow magically affixed to the back of his head. Can you say, distracting? Then, Luke Wheeler shows up with a hat so sparkly, he could have proposed to Rayna with that! We haven't seen such a fashion misstep on this show since Rayna's fedora disaster during her Liam days.

Though not exactly in as much suspense as at the conclusion of Season 1, "On the Other Hand" did leave me with a few lingering questions. Chief among them, why does it seem Rayna was totally fine with the unexpected, over-the-top, public proposal by Luke? A proposal she had to accept, and was not discussed ahead of time? Is this poor character development? Or just one more example of how Rayna is great at solving others' problems, but disastrous at even identifying her own? Another query: was there more to Avery and Scarlett's conversation than was shown on screen? I mean, was there more in the script? Because that scene seemed cut short, and did not thoroughly explain Avery's attitude in his later conversation with Juliette. Perhaps it was meant to be ambiguous. That way the audience is left in as much limbo as Juliette herself? I can only hope these questions will be answered when Nashville returns next fall.

May 22, 2014

Finale Reviews: Hart of Dixie Season 3 - "Second Chance"

Hart of Dixie, how you surprise me in the ways I least expect! Seriously, of all the twists and turns the Season 3 finale brought us, the resurrection of Season 1's secret love affair was the one that nearly knocked me out of my chair. I literally gasped. Audibly. Ok,  I guess if I had seen this post on Facebook, I'd have had more of a clue: 

Lavon and Lemon - Will they get a "Second Chance"?
Source: facebook.com/hartofdixie

But I was unusually absent from social media in the days leading up to "Second Chance," and I'm sort of glad. It was a fun surprise to hear the choruses of "no, no, no!" in that Southern drawl and that beautifully staged and filmed moment. Two men, united by the woman they love, separated from her by what's about to be miles of open ocean, face each other against a backdrop as blue as their spirits. I am so thrilled with this show, which continues to improve as the seasons go by. I'd say it deserves a better network, but hey, I love the CW, and what I'd actually mean is that it deserves more viewers. Now that we know Hart of Dixie will be back this fall, I have all the more reason to be excited by the finale - its romance, its surprises, and its quirky, hiccuppy charm.

Rachel Bilson's characters sure do have bad luck with coffee cart moments. She opens her heart up with confessions of love and what does she get? Squat. But Zoe isn't Summer. Even better, Season 3 Zoe isn't Season 1 Zoe. This time, she's not giving up. And thank goodness. Sometimes a show has to just go for it with the characters played by the actors who have the most chemistry. Even though I think it was clear from the pilot that it was Wade, and not George, that Zoe was destined for, any hope for George went out the window once Bilson and Bethel began their banter. (Fun fact - Wilson Bethel features in the original coffee cart moment.)

But on to the cliffhanger - let's address the love triangle from Season 1. The beauty in that final missed opportunity, as the "S.S. Desperation" pulled away from from the dock with the love of these two men's lives, was that it set up next season to tie up a loose end that's been buggin' me for awhile now. Earlier in the episode, when George and Lavon sat sippin' beers and then galavanted off on a guy adventure to meet Don Todd, I had a fleeting thought of, "how the heck are these two men friends?" They weren't really friends before Lavon cuckolded George by his affair with Lemon, and that certainly didn't bring them closer. It took awhile, but the Wade/Zoe/George love triangle worked itself out into the beautiful Zoe/Wade relationship that clearly had to happen (and will again, I'm sure.) The George/Lemon/Lavon triangle, on the other hand, was never worked out at all. George left Lemon at the altar, only to be rejected by Zoe and spiral into despair and also the arms of Tansy. Lemon was upset, at first, with Annabeth for dating Lavon, but rebounded remarkably quickly to a host of Southern gentlemen, as well as gardeners, in the second and third seasons.

So do these characters move on from romantic relationships remarkably and perhaps unbelievably quickly? Sure. Here's why I think that's ok. This show isn't about bitterness. This show is about happiness. And I love that it shows that forgiveness is a step on the road to happiness. Still, leaving the George/Lemon/Lavon triangle unsettled would have been too unbelievable, and bringing it back now is a fantastic story choice.

You know what else this show isn't about? Villains. Yes, I've said it before and I'll say it again. What I love about Hart of Dixie is that it proves when you write honest, flawed characters, you get a honest feeling from a show. And it won't matter what situations are contrived for them, they'll seem real. That's why Lemon couldn't remain a villain for more than the first few episodes of the first season, and it's why the audience will care about the next choice she'll have to make. This show is just about people trying to make it work despite the fact that they get in their own way. Ok, I'll say it. On the whole, Hart of Dixie is about second chances. What happens when you get them, and what happens when you miss them. Am I getting a little sentimental? Eh, ok. I don't care. That's what finales are there for. Hart of Dixie gave us a great one. A finale that was complete in and of itself, as well as a reflection of the show in its entirety. I watched it twice in two days. I don't know how I'll make it through the summer without Bluebell.

May 15, 2014

Finale Reviews: Community Season 5 / Series Finale

"We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year…"

A good friend of mine and fan of Community pointed out to me this week how poignant the show's theme song was on the day its cancellation was announced. Apparently, all the reasons NBC kept this show on the air one by one just faded away.

Consequently, "Basic Sandwich," which aired on April 17, 2014, constituted not only the end of the fifth season of Community, but will also (probably, although I suppose not certainly) serve as the series finale. Darkest Timeline, indeed, for a show to end just one season and one movie short of its catchphrase.

13 episodes does not constitute a full season in my book. And it's equally a shame that "Basic Sandwich," which stood alone on its air-night but so obviously should have been the second half of an hour long episode - will just have to do for a finale.

Not that the episode wasn't good. It was. Did it have some plotholes? Sure. Some frighteningly melodramatic moments? Absolutely. For example, take the conclusion. How does having Russell Borchert as Vice Dean solve all of Greendale's problems? Chang has diamond teeth now, so it isn't even as though they got his money. And melodrama? Out the wazoo. I mean, the emphatic shushing would have been expected from the Dean, but was overkill from the group at large. It did not elicit a laugh from this viewer.

But in spite of all that, it was a solid episode. And it spite of its worst episodes and its low fourth season, Community was (is? sigh.) a solid show. And it's a show I'll miss. Maybe not as much as I miss The Office a year after its finale, but I'll miss it.

Source: nbc.com
Shirley, Hickey, and Duncan really drew the short straw on this episode, didn't they? Well, either that or they took one for the team. But honestly, keeping Shirley upstairs excluded her from Jeff's emotional, door-opening, life-saving, flashback moment. And that's a real shame, because the Shirley/Jeff dynamic that was solidified in the season 3 episode "Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism" is one of the deeper, more meaningful connections I've seen on the show.

Speaking of Jeff's big moment, it was beautiful. Fantastical as the plot setup was, Jeff's experience of emotion was as perfect a conclusion to his character arc as we could hope for. Well, actually his speech at the conclusion of season 3 (found ridiculously in five parts here, here, here, here, and here) more accurately bookended his character by echoing but refuting his speech from the pilot. I still loved his emotional moment with his friends - his community - in the sealed off, dusty, forgotten Greendale Computery College. Even though Shirley wasn't there, and even though the audio flashbacks weren't quite as powerful as actual visual shots would have been. Despite what Abed says, I'll contend that this show really was about Jeff, and to see him grow to the point where his love can solve the problem instead of his arrogance creating it? That's beautiful.

Source: nbc.com
Community ought to go down in history as the anti-TV show. Consider the finale episode's anti-love story between Jeff and Britta. They begin the penultimate episode of the season with a decision to be together forever, and in the critical moment of the adventure, Britta and Jeff don't grasp one another's hands, they let go. The friendships on this show are anti-friendships. Or at the least, unlikely. And not the kind of unlikely that sitcoms usually pretend are odd couples but are actually as common as bad reality shows on cable. This was a show about a group of authentic misfits. Moreoever, Community made fun of itself and of TV in a remarkably funny way. Honestly, the fact that it lasted five seasons is unreal and something to be celebrated.

Now, this post would not be complete without a shoutout to Subway. Oh, Subway. You have done so much for my favorite NBC comedies. You helped Chuck out when times were tough for the Nerd Herd, allowed your slogan to cameo with Ryan Howard on The Office, and now, allowed your company to be the villain of Greendale. I'll get a five dollar footlong this week just to say thanks.

So let's talk about Abed for a bit, and all his meta-commentary on what this episode and show are and mean. "This show, Annie, it isn't just their show. This is our show," he reassures her, and launches into a hurried analysis of spin-offs and sitcoms and all that we who love TV love to hate about TV. It was one of my favorite moments in the episode. But it wasn't the moment that had the most to say about the show itself. That award goes to Annie and the line, "We were driven down here by sellouts with crappy values. Since when do human beings decide which dreams are worthwhile?" If the sellouts doesn't accurately describe the network execs who'd cancel Community, I don't know what word would.

Of course, I'm going with Abed on this one. Community has ended because, in that universe, an asteroid has destroyed all of human civilization. That's canon. But Community will always be a show I can return to. And I will, if only in my head every time I hear "Roxanne." And now, every time I hear "Ants Marching."  Community has made an incredible impact on television, particularly network television. I'm convinced of that. It mobilized its fan base like no show before it, and it was always in on the joke. The NBC joke, the sitcom joke, the fact that it was the butt of the joke. Community was possibly the most self-aware television show there ever was. As evidenced by their credits roll coda "Coming Soon to NBC." After all, what airs always does depend on what fails. Sorry to see you go, Community. Whatever new show takes your time slot has a tough act to follow. Maybe now the networks will get better at taking the advice from that theme song

"So watch what you throw away; And be here to recognize; There's another way." 

Source: ew.com

May 4, 2014

May the 4th Be With You: A Star Wars Day Review of The Big Bang Theory's Star Wars Day Episode

Clever of The Big Bang Theory's writers to pen a Star Wars Day episode, wasn't it? Would have been even more clever if it actually aired today, but then again, like many viewers, I'm sure, I watched on CBS.com days after the original airing anyway.

Source: cbs.com
"The Proton Transmogrification" brought back Bob Newhart in his role as "Professor Proton." While his lines didn't quite keep up with TBBT's quick pace, the 85-year-old actor proves that he's still got it when it comes to effective comedic delivery. Unfortunately, this may be the last we'll see of Newhart on the show, since this episode focused on his death (and subsequent Obi-Wan Kenobi-eqsue reappearance.) Of course, the character's demise was not in vain, as it served as a device for the character development of Sheldon Cooper, who grieved his hero's death in his own way.

Sad to say, though, what disappointed me most in the episode was seeing one of the other characters grow very little. Is it just me, or does Penny become more of a brat with every passing episode? She no longer merely makes fun of the nerdy interests of the "boys," but also expresses an unattractive anger at herself for her own participation in their interests. Sure, Penny's had her moments - like her accidental I love you - but this season, I sense an unfortunate stagnation in her character growth. Or worse, alongside characters making meaningful changes, Penny has simply become a caricature of all the worst aspects of the girl next door trope.

Source: cbs.com
Meanwhile, the Star Wars references continued throughout the episode in what I found to be a perfect combination of homage and teasing. After all, you need to get in a few jabs at Jar-Jar on any Star Wars Day. I particularly liked the abundance of Star Wars apparel, the funny, punny names for the gang's Star Wars themed fare, and the mention of the recently viral "machete order" of marathoning the films.

Other than the aforementioned character development problem, The Big Bang Theory gave us a great Star Wars Day, and I'm hoping this holiday - and maybe even Sheldon's new Obi-Wan - returns in some of the many future seasons TBBT  has already secured.

April 17, 2014

Parks and Recreation rocks #ThrowbackThursday: Review of "Prom" and "Flu Season 2"

The last two episodes of Parks and Recreation deserve a "#ThrowbackThursday" hashtag.

"Prom" let the audience reminisce in a lot of wonderful ways. Not the least of which was the tone of the episode - enthusiastic with a hint of awkward - which harkened back to the show's glory days in the second through fourth seasons. Season 6 has felt somewhat uneven, so I was glad to watch as my favorite show delivered a solid episode and hoped this was a harbinger of good ones to come.

April and Andy prove opposites attract.
Source: nbc.com 
As the students at Pawnee Central High enjoyed a prom thrown by the staff of the Parks and Rec Department, the characters gave us throwback stories of their own proms through confessionals and conversations. Not only did this offer some the audience some great lines that will no doubt soon be turned to gifs to be pinned and tumblr'd everywhere, but it also offered an interesting subplot for April and Andy. I loved this chance to see the Parks Department's first married couple in conflict, and more importantly, the chance to see them resolve conflict. April and Andy work well together because they are opposites, but to ignore the friction her gloom and his glee would inevitably cause would have been a betrayal of their characters. April's concern that she and Andy never would have gotten together had they met in high school was both adorable and easily remedied by some kind words from her ever-happy hubby.

Allison Gliffert and Greg Pikitis return in "Prom."
Source: nbc.com 
In another sort of throwback, two high school students from episodes gone by reappeared in this episode. Prom coordinator - and the subject of a Leslie/Ron squabble - Allison Gliffert, appeared in the Season 4 mock UN episode "The Treaty," in which she was known only as "France" for the majority of the half hour. (Yes, she eventually introduced herself as "Cassidy," but I'm going to call that a continuity error, because the same unmistakable young actress portrayed them both.) Then, in the surprise ending, Leslie's greatest nemesis - other than the City of Eagleton - returned, reprising the role of Greg Pikitis from the Season 2 episode of the same name. Despite his limited screen time, Pikitis delivered his trademark blend of cute and conniving, no small feat for the young actor.

By its title, "Flu Season 2" was billed as a sequel, but it was a sequel in name only, as the flu had very little to do with the plot of the episode. As it turned out, the apparent misnomer was actually some effective misdirection, and the payoff was worth the deceit. The episode didn't have any lines as amazing as Chris Pratt's improvised joke from the original "Flu Season," but new(er) character Craig, played by Billy Eichner, continues to crack me up with his loud, uninhibited one-liners.

Ben may be running, but it's Ron who wants to
escape the conversation.
Source: nbc.com
A throwback in this episode was Ron's reluctance to participate in the personal lives of those around him. It's usually been Leslie asking Ron for guidance, but this time, the person coming to him for advice was a very drunken Ben. The interference of the Eagleton Ron may have been the low point in a still very good episode, but Swanson's parting words to Ben were sweet, and, in true Ron Swanson style, they were much more poignant than they seemed at first.

Another aspect of the episode that hearkened to earlier seasons was the character combination swapping. One of the best things a sitcom with a large - or even moderate sized - cast can do is pair characters in new or interesting ways. "Flu Season 2" accomplished this not only with the Ron/Ben storyline, but with Craig's vying to impress Tom, Leslie and Andy's efforts to get a Unity Concert headliner, and a nice continuation of the Donna/April relationship as the former bankrolled the latter's wine country connoisseur contrivance.

Congratulations, Ben and Leslie!
Source: nbc.com 
In the end, the best part of these two episodes, particularly "Flu Season 2," was not the #throwbacks but the indications of things to come. Tom's new business is sending the character on his way without sending him far away. April and Andy are growing closer through little moments of friction in their marriage.

After the departures of Chris and Ann, the characters I worried most about were Leslie and Ben. Leslie's job offer, if it meant she left Pawnee, could mean the end Parks and Rec, and I'm not ready for that. On the other hand, I want to see these characters grow. And while Leslie's exciting news alone wasn't enough to convince me that her destiny remains in the Greatest Town in America, her almost involuntary blurt that her hometown is a good place to raise a family gives me hope. Growing the characters of Ben and Leslie by growing their family is a way to keep them in Pawnee without holding them back.

Tonight's episode is the last one before Season 6's two part finale. While I never thought that a season that began (by very nearly jumping the shark) in London would end on a strong note, these past two episodes have me feeling confident that it will.

April 1, 2014

How I Met Your Mother: "Last Forever" - A Review in Gifs

[This will contain SPOILERS. Did I really have to say that?]

So, obviously, despite the angry reviews I've given the show in the past, I had to watch the How I Met Your Mother series finale. And when I watched it, I knew I had to write something about it here on Rabbit Ear Reviews.

Barney: "This is totally going in my blog."

And yet, less than 48 hours after the episode's airing, it seems almost everything that could be said about "Last Forever" has been said. So I decided to express my thoughts on the show through the words of the McLaren's gang themselves. 

Has there been outrage from fans? Clearly. Unless you avoid social media like the plague, which clearly you don't because you're reading this, you've seen the outrage. As for me:
Ted: "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed."

For so much of the episode, I just craved for something - anything of significance - to happen. Instead, I was like:
Barney: "I'm bored."

Other than a passive settling of Lily and Marshall's bet (and by the way - she better give him that money back) there were so few homages to the journey the characters have taken together. And no, the hanging chad costume wasn't enough for me.

 I didn't even cry. And I cry at everything. As I watched I was thinking:
Ted: "Something is seriously wrong with me."

But then we got that surprise ending. Well, half of it was a surprise. The fans had figured out that the Mother was dead awhile ago. But the Robin twist did fool us all. But fooling your audience? Do you really count that as a win, writers? Honestly, here's what I want. I want one - just a single member - of the cast, or crew, or creative team to admit that the finale wasn't the right way for HIMYM to end. They need to stop claiming it was. To them, I say this: 
Robin: "Because as a friend, I have to tell you: You're full of crap."

And when they admitted that, I would want them to say: 
Lily: "Somewhere along the line, I forgot to pursue my dream."

And here's why.  The ending, planned from the beginning, could have been great. The blue French horn, the very fact that Ted might just wind up with Robin after all, could have been a fantastic bookend to the pilot episode. Could have been. But somewhere along the line, they lost track of their endgame. Maybe because the show dragged on for too many seasons. Maybe because Robin got sidetracked by Barney. Or maybe just because Robin and Barney had more chemistry than anyone could have expected. Instead, the audience became invested in a different story. We longed for a different ending. 

Which brings me to my next point. Is it bad planning to begin writing a show and have no idea where the story will end up? Of course. (I'm looking at you, LOST.) But I think the writers of HIMYM just taught us a valuable lesson. It's just as bad to plan the ending from the beginning. Don't pretend you know everything that's going to happen to your characters because:
Marshall: "Like you could possibly know that."

Television series are not novels. As they are written, they grow. They change. They're dynamic. And the creators don't get a rewrite of the first chapter after it's aired. So I think writers have to be willing to let the story go a new way that wasn't planned if that's where the story goes. HIMYM forced an ending that didn't fit, and that's why the audience walked away confused, uncomfortable, and grieving the death of a character who was only present for 11% of the series.

Listen, sitcoms don't have to have some deep philosophical meaning. It's comedy. Some of them, like The Office, didn't start out claiming to have some meaning, and they ended up with one anyway. And that's beautiful. You know what's not beautiful? Claiming to have meaning and then discrediting it in your finale.

Robin: "The future is scary, but you can just run back to the past because it's familiar. Yes, it's tempting, but it's a mistake."

Robin was Ted's past. Tracy was his future. The writers gave into temptation. They ran back to the past. And that was a mistake.

March 21, 2014

Hart of Dixie is back! But on Fridays...

Not exactly a love triangle, but this is Bluebell after all.
Source: cwtv.com
Well, The CW is moving Hart of Dixie to the wasteland of television that is Friday night. Needless to say, I'm disappointed. Even though some shows can thrive on Fridays (like Grimm) and it doesn't always signal the end of the line (Chuck did ok there for awhile), it's a bummer to see the network throw it's best-written and best-acted show to the last night of the workweek.

Regardless, I'll be watching tonight. Now, where did the show leave off? Well, Bluebell, Alabama no longer needed fear hostile takeover by their rival neighboring town, but unfortunately, we hadn't seen the last of Scooter McGreevey. He was back with a vengeance. Well, without much vengeance, actually, which only endeared him to Tansy, much to George's chagrin. All of this is dismaying for a fan of George and Tansy. Of course, I'm even conflicted about that, as I was a fan of George and Zoe, and heck, even came to have a soft spot for George and Lynly. Zoe is moving in with the adorable Joel, who despite my love for the Zoe/Wade relationship, has won me over. (I'll admit it. Joel just might be as close as Zoe Hart's going to get to Seth Cohen.) And Wade's seeing Zoe's cousin Vivian. Shelby moved to Montgomery with her baby daddy, which makes me sad because Laura Bell Bundy absolutely killed in that role. Then there's AB and Lavon, who are both in recovery from their breakup.

It's hard to say, but this might be my
favorite Bluebell couple.
Source: cwtv.com
Whew! Exhausted? All this to say, one of the Hart of Dixie's greatest strengths, if you ask me, is the overabundance of couples that seem to pair up in Bluebell. There's so many I can't even decide which one to 'ship.

Let's recap: when Hart of Dixie began its first season, it gave us a straightforward love triangle. Zoe must choose between bad boy Wade and golden boy George. I suppose there was that other triangle, also featuring George, but with the addition of Lemon and Lavon. But in season two, things got a little more complicated. The introduction of minor characters played by great, under-appreciated actors added life and love to the little Bluebell. In romantic dramas like this one, villains are usually just the characters who break up the favorite couple. But in Bluebell, the villains are few.

Tonight, we'll also enjoy our Dixie with "a twist of Lemon" - a pun I absolutely love. For awhile, Lemon was the closest thing Bluebell had to a villain, but then her humanity shone through. And as much as I've missed her, I'll be the first to admit that the attempts to hide actress Jaime King's baby bump were becoming a little bit ridiculous. And the promo indicated we'll also be treated to the return of Magnolia. These blonde sisters never fail to bring the funny, just in case you needed another reason to tune in on a Friday night. And I'm betting Annabeth's breaking up with Lavon wasn't a simple plot point, but purposefully timed to Lemon's return. In the end though, it won't matter who ends up with whom. With a cast as great as Hart of Dixie's, the chemistry abounds, and that's why the antics and afflictions and lives and loves of all those who call Bluebell home feels like home for the viewer, even on Friday night.

March 8, 2014

Reign: "The Consummation" Review

Source: cwtv.com
Remember when I wrote that The CW's new show Reign sounded perfect for the network - just without the vampires? It seems I may have spoken too soon, because its first season has been full of supernatural visions, prophecies, druid-like curses, good luck charms hidden inside decorative tchotchkes, and now, zombies?!? Ok, not really. I'm sure Clarissa, the creepy bastard child/ghost who lived in the shadows until she kidnapped her half brothers only to be bludgeoned by her only friend was never actually dead. Wow, I guess this show does belong on The CW after all.

If I were going to fault Reign for a single point that's weakened the show's entire first season, though, it wouldn't be the inclusion of the fantastical. I'd fault Reign for overplaying its hand, both in the development of storyline, and in the way it pushes the envelope with what's allowed on network TV. Case in point, this past week's episode, "The Consummation" (with a creepiness factor adeptly and amusingly described by Lily Sparks over on tv.com), which featured Mary's choice of a husband, her wedding, and their subsequent, well, you read the title, should have been a finale - both to the season, and to a carefully crafted love-triangle story. Instead it was a missable midseason yawn that only served to highlight just how unimaginative and hastily-crafted the Francis-Mary-Bash triangle really was.

I would have liked to see Mary and Francis and/or Mary and Bash develop a believable relationship, perhaps giving the viewers a reason (more significant than muscle tone) to cheer for one brother or the other. Instead the plot got sidetracked by an overbearing Portuguese prince, that ridiculous affair between Kenna and the King, who looks like he's old enough to be her grandfather, Francis's uber-blonde ex-girlfriend with the indecipherable accent, and Bash's pregnant cousin. It's like the writers tried to cram every possible subplot into 13 episodes, burying the main selling point of the show in the process.

And if they really wanted to hurt the viewer - or Mary - by pairing Francis with Lola in a moment of infidelity, or at least indiscretion, they should have given us reason to care for or trust Francis to begin with. He was always a bit of a scoundrel, and Mary knows that. So when the Lola/Francis rendezvous truth comes out (and it will, because Kenna is malicious), Mary shouldn't be the least bit surprised.

In the end, I guess we have to believe that Mary chose Francis simply because she loved him more. And I'll buy that, if only because Queen Catherine finally used one of her psychological mind games for good, forcing Mary to make up her mind through a fake papal letter. Catherine remains my favorite character on the show because Megan Follows's acting skills tower so far above the rest of the cast. I want to re-watch her plan her own beheading. It was elegant. Seriously, if her suicide in "Royal Blood" hadn't been a ruse to escape captivity, and she was actually gone, I'd have stopped watching.

Ability to give the stink eye must be genetic.
Source: eonline.com
The real reason Mary chose Francis is, of course, that that's what really happened, although with costumes as anachronistic as Reign's, I wouldn't exactly have been surprised by a revisionist history that led Mary Stuart to marry King Henry's bastard son. So does this mean Bash is gone for good? And just how long can this show survive now that what should have been the ultimate moment, the big decision, the grand finale of this first season has past without much fanfare?

What Reign doesn't seem to be lacking is a fan base. The show has one loud enough that Adelaide Kane had to take to twitter to prevent them from boycotting when several episodes didn't include Francis. So if I were to bet, I'd say this show gets renewed, especially since the best shows on the network don't seem to. But I wouldn't bet that it gets any more interesting, even if Clarissa does reappear undead.

March 6, 2014

What happens now? Character departures on my two favorite NBC sitcoms

Call me unpatriotic, but I was excited to see the Olympics come to a close, if only because it meant I got my Thursday night NBC lineup back.

Community and Parks and Rec both returned last week, but neither is exactly what it was - mostly because of goodbyes we recently said to some of our favorite characters. Before the events in Sochi, Community's Troy headed out to sea, and Ann and Chris left Pawnee, Indiana. Now, television shows have survived massive character departures in the past, (Season 9 of The Office was one of its best, long after Dunder Mifflin lost Michael Scott), but I must admit I was concerned to see what would happen to  these last remaining remnants of what used to be a great night of comedy on NBC. After all, when Rob Lowe leaves a show, who knows what's gonna happen? We can at least agree that The West Wing didn't go uphill after Sam Seaborne left the White House.

Source: nbc.com
So yeah, I wondered what would happen to Abed without his best buddy Troy. I'm happy to report that in the two episodes since the Childish Tycoon set sail, the writers haven't coddled the character. Instead, Abed was harassed by Britta, betrayed by a  new love interest, and handcuffed to a filing cabinet by the study group's new resident old guy, Professor Buzz Hickey.

I imagine that Abed's a tricky character to write and to play. How do you keep a neurotic, anti-social, media-obsessed community college student from becoming a caricature? Despite claymation, muppetization, and a season without Dan Harmon, Abed has remained a solid, yet growing, character. In the latest episode, I was particularly impressed by his emotion. He clearly missed his friend, but in a very Abed way - compensating by doing alone what they used to do together, cosplay for going to the movies. But the best part of the episode was when Abed didn't get his way, and how that led to his bonding with an unlikely new friend. I get the sense that Community is still finding its sea legs this season, but nonetheless, it's a fun ride.

Source: nbc.com
On Parks and Rec, Leslie Knope lost her best friend, too. Sure, Rashida Jones always played it straight on this comedy, but as she's been with the show since its inception, she'll clearly be missed, and not just by Leslie. And Pawnee will never be the same without the perpetual good mood of Chris Traeger. This comes right on the heels of another loss for Leslie, loss of her place on the City Council, her dream job. Hasn't exactly been a red letter year for everyone's favorite public servant. If you ask me, that explains why this season has seen the show suffer a bit. (Excepting, of course, the episode "The Cones of Dunshire" which an especially funny Adam Scott made one of the best episodes ever.) Parks and Rec thrives on joy - the little happy moments that lift the spirits of the viewer. When things begin to turn around for Leslie, they'll also turn around for the show.

Parks and Rec will be fine, though, with guest stars like John Hodgman and great one-liners from Tom and April. And the new faces in the Parks Department, most notably Craig, played by Billy Eichner, may not fill the void left by the Perkins-Treager's, but they'll bring the funny.

So what happens next? I'll be tuning in tonight to see. It sure looks like we're in for a good time.

PS: In what I think was the best subplot of this season of Community so far, Chang believes he may be a ghost. If you haven't watched "Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality," it's worth your time for a single shot of a photograph near the end.

March 4, 2014

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: "Tactical Village" Review

After Brooklyn Nine-Nine won multiple Golden Globes (including, unexpectedly, Best Actor), I realized I needed to get on that (somewhat sparsely populated) bandwagon and start watching the Andy Samberg fronted show. I am so glad I did! Despite airing on the network station I least frequently watch, Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine delivers a solid, quirky workplace comedy. I caught up a bit on Hulu, and now consider myself a fan of the show.

Tonight's episode, "Tactical Village," pitted the members of the 99th precinct against their fellow NYC cops in a sort of obstacle-course of hypothetical in-the-field police scenarios. An interesting set-up, to be sure, and ripe for the kind of character-pairing I always appreciate.

Source: facebook.com/BrooklynNineNine

While watching this episode, I finally figured out what Samberg's Detective Jake Peralta has got that makes the character so special - he's simultaneously a nerd, and the coolest, smoothest character on the show. I suppose this dichotomy makes him relatable. It was his nerdier side that rose to the surface in this episode. Maybe it was his fierce defense of Luke Skywalker or his childish eagerness to win a trophy. More likely, though, is the possibility that in his efforts to show up fellow detective Amy Santiago's suitor Teddy, we got a glimpse of a jealous, vulnerable Jake. It made him adorable in a whole new way. I can only hope that Jake's interest in Amy doesn't lead to any actual character pairing just yet. When it comes to TV, the audience really does prefer the tension over the romantic resolution.

Andre Braugher was also particularly strong in "Tactical Village." His character, the precinct's captain, became addicted to a game app called "Cwazy Cupcakes." And who would he turn to for help breaking this addiction if not his lackadaisical assistant Gina, played by the hilarious Chelsea Peretti? As the Captain himself acknowledged, it's hard to say "cwazy" in anger, which made for a great moment. It also resulted in many tweets from fans disappointed that the app is, in fact, not real.  Peretti, I should mention, is the most consistently funny part of the show in the episodes I've seen. That said, the rest of the cast seems to be jelling nicely, and I'm confident that Brooklyn Nine-Nine will find its place as one of the best sitcoms on network TV. Who knows? Come August, the cast and crew might even have some more awards to set on the mantel next to those Globes.

February 7, 2014

The Big Bang Theory: "The Locomotive Manipulation" Review

Last night's Valentine's-themed episode of The Big Bang Theory threw an (un)expected twist into Sheldon and Amy's relationship. Since any attempt to recap it here would do a disservice to the acting of Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik, why don't you just watch the scene again for yourself:

This sarcastically begun and romantically completed kiss was unexpected because the episode started out like all the others: Sheldon ignores Amy, Amy sighs and looks longingly at the other relationships in the group. But the moment wasn't entirely out of nowhere. The writers have been building to this moment for, well, multiple seasons now. And the Sheldon/Amy relationship has been progressing, in small ways, since its inception.

Source: cbs.com
What I loved best about this perfect moment in an otherwise unremarkable episode was its proof of authentic character development, as opposed to character betrayal. (For an example of character betrayal, look no further than How I Met Your Mother's Barney Stinson or the fourth season of Community.) Sheldon became closer to Amy in this moment than the character has been with anyone else up to this point. It can't be easy to make this kind of 360-degree turn with a character so utterly averse to human intimacy. Yet the writers in the setup and Parsons in his execution were able to sell it as authentically "Sheldon." 

Maybe it was the sarcasm, or the childlike interest in trains that bookended the moment, or the way he awkwardly stepped in closer to Amy when he decided he wasn't kidding anymore. But the real moment that sent me reeling was the fact that he invited Amy along with him to the engine room. For Sheldon, intimacy has never been about the physical. He wants to be with Amy, and he wants her to be with him. Perhaps this is why the relationship has captivated fans. It's not a flash-in-the-pan. It's a slow, steady romance that we can root for. The characters are growing, but still the same at their cores. They are becoming more real, rather than becoming caricatures of who they once were. It's the kind of romance that's television magic. 

Happy Valentine's Day, Sheldon and Amy. We love you.