On this, the eve of 2013, Paul and I begin to look back at some of our favorite things of 2012. First up, our ten favorite TV series.
Also, let’s give a slow clap to Paul, who struggled through severe illness just to get these words to you, dear reader. A speedy recovery to you, sir!
PAUL: 10. PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC)
Season 5 gets out of the office a little bit, with Ben and April in Washington D.C. (with an evil robot congressman). Ron gets a new love interest (the always lovely Lucy Lawless). Tom starts a new business. And Andy finds a new career.
AJ: 10. GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
What Game of Thrones did in its first season was nothing short of exceptional, a 10-episode narrative that goes down as one of the finest accomplishments the medium has seen thus far. And while the second season struggled at times to recapture that majesty, it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. The scope and breadth of George R.R. Martin’s world remains impressive; the cast, especially Peter Dinklage as the kind of noble imp Tyrion Lannister, continues to knock out high fantasy material that would crush lesser actors; and thrilling hours like “Blackwater” remind us that this is the closest thing we have to a Lord of the Rings on TV. And it’s a whole lot nastier and sexier, too.
Don Draper is a serial philanderer. Walter White is a meth kingpin. Nicholas Brody is a (possibly) reformed terrorist. Nucky Thompson is a gangster. These are not men who do good things. Why, then, do audiences hate their wives so much?
Don, Walt, et al. are enormously popular with viewers, and rightfully so. They’re not necessarily good people, but they’re not strictly bad people either; they’re contradictory, complex, nuanced, comprised of all the elements that make for great drama. If, like myself, you enjoy reading reviews or seeking out online reaction to each episode, though, you’ve probably noticed a worrying trend. Though many applaud the behavior of these characters, all murderers (save Don) and adulterers (save Walt), they’re a lot less willing to afford their wives the benefit of the doubt. Look, I’m not here to be the Moral Police; I’m not interested in discussing the pros and cons of infidelity, especially considering most of these characters’ wives are guilty of same. (Sidenote: I, uh, hope we can all agree murder is bad.)
And it’s not like I don’t get the appeal. I don’t watch Breaking Bad just because it’s a devastating portrait of a man sacrificing everything he holds dear at the altar of power. I also watch it because it is freaking awesome when Walt pulls off the perfect heist. How giddy did the classic “RUN” moment make me? Answer: very. And at the end of the Mad Men season finale, when Don gave the honey at the bar the patented Draper Stare…goddamn. As a viewer, I know full well how thrilling and visceral it can be to watch these men do their dirt. The problem is when you view them as the heroes of their respective stories and any attempts–especially by their wives–to curb or question their behavior as hindering their quest, whatever you think that is. The numbers show that not a whole lot of people actually watch Breaking Bad, and I know that its small but loyal following contains some of the sharpest TV viewers around. But the Internet would also lead me to believe that a bunch of folks would be okay with a show where all Walt does is make meth, kill people, and become the most awesome greatest badass superhero on the planet.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (DVD/Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Combo)
Taken from a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau has a great premise: there is a bureaucratic agency governing every decision you make, and if you stray from The Plan, they will step in and adjust your life. What could have been a Truman Show or an Eternal Sunshine instead becomes a mediocre time-waster, as the adjusters’ arbitrary rules and the silly chase scenes get in the way of real chemistry between forbidden lovers Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It’s a shame to see Anthony Mackie, who was good in The Hurt Locker, turn in a stupefyingly dull performance, but it’s worse to see Richard Slattery, who unloads at least two dozen savagely memorable remarks on each episode of Mad Men, reduced to shouting things like, “Can’t I get a break in this case?!” Under the anonymous, visionless direction of George Nolfi, the film is a cosmic farce as a bunch of old white dudes attempt to cock-block Damon on an epic scale. The spark between Damon and Blunt makes things mildly entertaining. Extras include audio commentary from Nolfi, deleted and extended scenes, and three featurettes.
(Originally reviewed by me, and much more favorably by Paul, in “Secret Origins.”)
Mad Men fans, rejoice! In recent weeks, the show’s future seemed up in the air as talks between network American Movie Classics and creator Matthew Weiner seemed on the brink of collapsing due to the kind of ordinary Hollywood bullshit negotiating that derails many a project. AMC wanted two cast members cut and more product placement; Weiner wanted neither, plus more money. Weiner even decided to take a ski vacation during negotiations, and just as he hit the slopes, AMC announced that Mad Men would officially return for a fifth season in 2012. Though they didn’t say as much, the implication was clear: “We can get all mad about men with or without you, Weiner.”
Though popular shows changing showrunners isn’t abnormal, Weiner occupies a rarified position among showrunners. He doesn’t just run the show, he is its creative voice. It would be like Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Joss Whedon, or The Sopranos without David Chase. In fact, for the last two seasons of Buffy, Marti Noxon was the showrunner–which some cite as the reason for those seasons’ relative weaknesses–but Whedon was still involved, and his voice and guidance was evident in every major plot twist or character development. What almost happened with Mad Men is that Weiner wouldn’t have been involved at all; not to be hyperbolic, but it would have been like removing Orson Welles from Citizen Kane three-quarters of the way through and replacing him with, say, Frank Capra. That’s not to say the movie still wouldn’t have been decent, but the ending would have been markedly different and it certainly wouldn’t be revered as possibly the greatest film ever made. In essence, we would have seen an ending to a story about the people of Mad Men, but not the ending to the story we’ve been watching for the last few years.
On last night’s show, Paul and I continued our countdown of the Top 100 Characters in Modern Pop Culture with #s 30-21. Be sure to listen to the show for our full run-downs, but here are some choice excerpts:
PAUL: Scott Pilgrim (Scott Pilgrim series)
The series is about Scott growing up, about his evolution, and if you as a reader are patient and invested, it absolutely pays off by the end.
AJ: Norma Desmond (Sunset Blvd.)
Norma is a bizarre, grotesque caricature, wanting to hold a funeral for her pet monkey at the film’s beginning and given to lots of other disturbingly narcissistic actions.
On last night’s show, Paul and I continued our countdown of the Top 100 Characters in Modern Pop Culture with #s 40-31. Be sure to listen to the show for our full run-downs, but here are some choice excerpts:
PAUL: Jesse Custer (Preacher)
He’s a good ol’ Southern boy, with a hard-drinking work ethic and a code of honor that he follows to an almost fundamentalist extreme.
AJ: The Joker (DC Comics)
Though the Joker is frightening on his own, as has been explored in many comics and filmic adaptations, he would mean nothing without the Batman. He is Batman reflected through a funhouse mirror, living to terrorize and provoke Gotham City as much as Batman exists solely to protect it and keep watch over it.
Last week, Paul and I reached the halfway mark of our countdown of the Top 100 Characters in Modern Pop Culture. Here are excerpts of our thoughts on our picks for #s 60-51, but be sure to listen to the show for our full rundowns.
PAUL: Vincent (Beauty and the Beast)
Speaking with a gruff but gentle whisper and all but hidden beneath an impressive leonine Rick Baker prosthesis (which didn’t, but absolutely should have, won awards), Perlman was the very definition of Romantic-with-a-capital-R misunderstood emo monster heroes for a generation.
AJ: John Locke (Lost)
His regained ability to walk gave him a new lease on life, and he looked at the island as a beautiful, supernatural force. He refused to leave, and tried to get the rest of the group to stay as well, believing them to be there for a greater purpose. The constant push-and-pull between Jack, the man of science, and Locke, the man of faith, became the series’ core thematic conflict.
Above is our first non-zombie production photo from the set of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a forthcoming series based on Robert Kirkman’s acclaimed comic book. It’s of Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, the police officer who serves as the main protagonist in Kirkman’s tale of a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ravaged planet. This photo arrives at a pretty good time for me, as I just finished reading all 72 current issues of the comic this afternoon, and I watched Frank Darabont’s The Mist last night.
Originally published on May 8, 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Justin Theroux, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby
I attended a packed midnight screening of Iron Man 2, and directly beforehand, in the same auditorium, a considerably less packed screening of the original Iron Man. The first is every bit as great as it was two years ago; it is charming, rich with character, brilliantly acted and directed, and with not a wasted minute. It’s the perfect blend of comedy, drama, and action, a genuine crowdpleaser in every sense.