Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best of 2011 - The Year In Television

Welcome to part 2 of Genres & Judgements' Best of 2011 lists, this one is for the ten best TV shows of the year.

There is so much good television on these days, especially comedies. When I started to think about the shows I was going to have to leave off this list, I almost turned it into two -- one for comedies, another for action/drama shows -- but 10 is just such a nice, simple number. And I'm lazy. Who knows, maybe next year! Onward...
10. The League (FX)
What a transformation The League has made. It's always been good for some laughs, but a few adjustments made in season three -- namely fewer plots revolving around fantasy football, more Nick Kroll and dropping that bizarre requirement of earlier years of a Jon Lajoie musical number in nearly every episode -- it's gone to the next level (evidence). There were also a bevy of well-placed guest stars throughout the season, including Eliza Dushku, Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman, but none were better than Jeff Goldblum's turn as Ruxin's father (during the best Thanksgiving-themed episode for any show ever). It doesn't matter if you don't follow football or even play fantasy sports. The best parts of The League have little to do with that stuff.

9. Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
While most of the best dramas in 2011 built themselves into a fury before ultimately pulling back the reins during that final episode to the colossal disappointment of their audience (I'm especially looking at you, Sons of Anarchy), Boardwalk did no such thing. If anything, they went further than I ever dreamed they would. The reason this show is sitting this low on my list is because the early episodes continued the first season's slightly tedious plotting. But that changed in a hurry during the final slew of episodes. It'll be interesting to see if the show can continue at this level with the necessary changes as a result of the finale; I hope it can.

8. Parks & Recreation (NBC)
It's pretty safe to say this is the most consistent comedy on TV; it never ceases to make me smile a few times an episode, and that's between when I'm bursting at the seams laughing. The supporting characters are the best part about the show, especially Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson who never fails to kill his scene ("You had me at meat tornado."). The latest stretch of episodes haven't been quite as good as when season three ended in the spring (hence its drop in my hierarchy), but with recent events in the show, it appears that the less-interesting subplots have been excised. See what the gang in Pawnee is up to here to see what I mean.

7. Doctor Who (BBC)
Matt Smith's second year in the TARDIS was even better than the first. That said, this year's Who was one of the victims of building more anticipation for a grand ending than the show was able to deliver upon. However, in this case, the small stories away from the larger story arc of the season were mostly outstanding and still enabled to maintain its position in my good graces. And that big story... man. Is anything better in the Who-verse than River Song? There's so much magic evident when Alex Kingston and Smith share a scene. I know more River means less Amy and Rory, and would spoil us with too much of a good thing, but dammit if sometimes I want it anyway. Enjoy the Christmas special this week because it'll be a while until we get more adventures with the Doctor -- Fall 2012.

6. Game of Thrones (HBO)
What a debut season. After some slow plotting early on, Thrones failed to yield from my attention once it got going. Any other complaints regarding this fantasy action-drama are likely to be nit-picks. Having recently finished the novel which this inaugural season is based upon, I can attest that they really trimmed most of the fat from the narrative, leaving all the best parts to play out on screen. What's most exciting about this series is to hear from fans of George RR Martin's novels that the best is yet to come. We'll get at least three more years of Thrones, as they're already making preparations to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two television seasons. Winter is coming, indeed.
Did I leave your favorite show off? Got any guesses as to what the final five are? Find out after the jump.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best of 2011 - Albums of the Year

Welcome back to another end-of-the-year extravaganza with the first of Genres & Judgements' Best of 2011 lists. Even more-so than last year, I took it upon myself to listen to a ton of new music this year. I was a little lazy from September until mid-November, so if there's anything I missed, it probably came out during that period. That said, I'm feeling pretty confident about this list.

Some of you may wonder why some albums were left off the list, and the quick answer is that, for me, they just weren't good enough. For example, you'll get no argument from me that Adele's 21 wasn't great, but I only listened to most of the tracks twice (according to the stats in iTunes), and not since the beginning of the year when it came out. So for me, I have to be drawn into repeat listens for an album to qualify as one of the top releases of the year. Plenty of good albums met this fate, including new ones from three of my favorite bands: Wilco, Explosions In The Sky and Radiohead.

What follows are the 10 albums I couldn't stop listening to in 2011. Click on the links to stream a track from each album.
10. Nostalgia, Ultra
Frank Ocean
This mixtape was released for free download on Ocean's Tumblr page in the spring, and blew more than a few of my friends away, as the fervor on my Facebook feed could attest. With this release, it's safe to say he's established himself as one of the cornerstones of the new R&B movement going on right now.
Track 12: American Wedding

9. Blood Pressures
The Kills
Jack White's supergroup The Dead Weather released one of my favorite albums last year, which led me to checking out Alison Mosshart's main band for the first time. This is probably an oversimplification, but with Blood Pressures, The Kills often come across as a less-intense version of The Dead Weather. (Yes, I know The Kills have been around for far longer, but I discovered them after TDW.) But this isn't to say it's a weaker album. There's intense drive of anxiety from Mosshart's primal howls and Jamie Hince's gritty guitar riffs streaming throughout this album that makes you come back for more.
Track 2: Satellite

8. The Rip Tide
While a bit less adventurous as previous efforts, Beirut mastermind Zach Condon managed to solidify his place as an indie folk darling while still managing to achieve popular success. It's a short album, clocking in at under 35 minutes, but that trimmed a lot of fat from what could have been a bloated effort with less-worthy songs tacked on.
Track 3: East Harlem

7. Cults
Being that this is mid-December, I really can't convey enough how fantastic of a summer album this is. Just makes you wanna put the top down, drive and smile.
Track 2: Go Outside

6. Watch the Throne
Jay-Z & Kanye West
There probably wasn't a more anticipated release this year than this one. While Throne lacks the breakaway hit you might assume a partnering of this magnitude would produce, there isn't a dud track on it. Some complaints that this is just a Kanye album with lots of Jay-Z on it seem weak to me; West has always struck me as the stronger producer of the two and it's reflected here, but Jay-Z's lyrics are almost always superior. In other words, the collaboration works, with each feeding off the other's strengths. Rumors have already been floated for a sequel.
Track 2: Lift Off (feat. Beyonce)
Wanna see what else is on the list? The remaining five albums are after the jump.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Good Man Is Hard To Find - A Genres & Judgements Mixture

Right now I'm in the in the final stages of putting together my Best of 2011 lists. And since the year's about over, I started rummaging around my music database for some tunes I could write to, and found a ton of banging stuff I had completely forgot existed (as you'll notice in the upcoming Albums of the Year post, I slacked off with checking up on new music big time once September got under way).

This one starts off on the sparse side with a fascinating remix of an older Radiohead song by Julianna Barwick, but I promise there's some action after that, highlighted by Trent Reznor and Co.'s rendition of probably my all-time favorite Led Zeppelin track. These were released in 2011, and The Black Keys and Lana Del Rey songs have only been available for about a week, so there really is nothing stale about this mix.

And the title of this bad boy? I have a Flannery O'Connor collection on my bookshelf and, even though the girl in that picture and these songs don't have much of anything to do with her short story, I couldn't excise that phrase once it popped into my head.

Track list and streaming links available after the jump.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Lou Reed & Metallica's LULU - Merely The Worst Album Of 2011 Or The Most Egregious Collection Of Music Created In Recent Memory?

This is not a joke. It's really that fucking bad. I can't recall anything else comparable released by established artists. Will make a great Christmas gag gift though.

Feel free to stream it for yourself at their site.

You have been warned.
While I have your attention, there are some reviews for a few flicks that were in theaters recently that will come your way soon, as well as Jonathan Hickman's time-travel, fighter-pilot comic The Red Wing, and the return of the Best of the Year series in December and (probably because I'll get behind again) early January. And, yes, I know I haven't completed the final Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes post for this recently concluded season.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes - "End Times"

Context- and commentary-free moments from this week's episode.

Episode 12, Season 4
airdate: October 2nd, 2011
"Skyler, I have lived under the threat of death for a year now, and because of that, I've made choices. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices, no one else. And those consequences... they're coming. No more prolonging the inevitable."
- Walter White
"All I know is when he tells me your employer took him out in the desert and threatened to murder his entire family, I sat up and took notice. Because, hey, what am I if not family?"
- Saul Goodman
"I've been waiting all day. Waiting for Gus to send one of his men to kill me. And it's you."
- Walter White
"No. I'm gonna do this one way or another, Mr. White."
"Then let me help."
- Jesse Pinkman, Walter White

Monday, September 26, 2011

Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes - "Crawl Space"

Context- and commentary-free moments from this week's episode.

Episode 11, Season 4
airdate: September 25th, 2011
"I don't want to talk about it - to you or to anyone else. I'm done explaining myself."
- Walter White
"I'll tell you what this is about Mr. Beneke. This is about you and me doing our best to keep Huell happy."
"Huell? Who's Huell?"
"This is Huell. Huell, you happy?"
"What would make you unhappy?"
"This little mofo not doing what he's told."
- Saul's other A-team member (played by Bill Burr), Ted Beneke, Huell
"Does the laundry have to be dirty?"
- Walter White, Tyrus Kitt
"Last I asked for your help, you said, 'I hope you end up buried in a barrel in the Mexican desert.'"
- Jesse Pinkman
"If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter. I kill your wife. I kill your son. I kill your infant daughter."
- Gustavo Fring
"It was an act of God. Ain't no account for no act of God."
- Huell

Monday, September 19, 2011

Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes - "Salud"

Context- and commentary-free moments from this week's episode.

SPOILER WARNING: Do NOT read the last quote before watching "Salud."

Episode 10, Season 4
airdate: September 18th, 2011
"Tell this asshole if he wants to learn how to make my product, he's gotta do it my way. The right way."
"I speak English."
"So you understand what 'asshole' means. Now go get me my phenylacentic acid, asshole."
- Jesse Pinkman, Cartel Chemist
"I made a mistake. It's my own fault. I had it coming. It's all my fault. I'm just... I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
- Walter White
"Celebrities have to get their cars washed like everybody else."
- Saul Goodman
"Remembering you that way wouldn't be so bad. The bad way would be to remember you the way... the way you've been this whole last year. At least last night you were... you were real."
- Walter White, Jr.
- Gustavo Fring
"Make yourself useful -- find a gun."
- Hitman Mike
"Don Eladio is dead. His capos are dead. You have no one left to fight for. Fill your pockets and leave in peace. Or fight me and die!"
- Gustavo Fring
"Bug" - Episode 9

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reel Low: Contagion [2011]

Just in time for flu season, Steven Soderbergh brings us a film that will make you seriously consider extreme couponing for hand sanitizer. Contagion [2011] explores one of the bleakest scenarios imaginable -- a disease so powerful, it decimates the population as it escalates into a worldwide pandemic. However, the film does so with such intelligence and command of the subject and drama, that you won't even mind being overcome with germophobia.

We live in a world where the transmission of a new disease has the potential to plague the entirety of humanity in little over a day. So rapidly can it travel the globe and infect millions -- roughly a quarter of the population -- the spread of it even outpaces progress in the search for a cure.

But this blight isn't the only danger sweeping through the world of the film. If one out of every four people are contracting the disease, at least twice that number were fully infected by panic, allowing the moral fabric of society rip apart with rampant looting, rioting and even more extreme measures (like kidnapping and murder) to assuage that fear. These events were often fueled by rumors -- some of which had merit and others entirely unsubstantiated -- but all of which are just as impossible to control in the times we live in as the it would be to cease the spread of a disease of this magnitude. The ripples of terror passing around globe were just as epidemic as the virus itself.

Infused with a barrage of stars and supremely talented character actors in minor roles, Contagion is a vehicle for everyone involved shine. The movie is comprised of multiple storylines, but ultimately they all spin out of one of three main threads. The first is driven by a CDC official played by Laurence Fishburne who is leading the charge at containing, understanding and curing the disease. There's also Matt Damon's portrayal of a husband and father who's painful personal account leads us through the decay of social order in suburbia. And finally the journalist/blogger, conspiracy theorist, and ultimately shrewd opportunist played by Jude Law, who through his incessant rejection of mainstream news leads him to and beyond the horror of the disease from the very beginning.

Unsurprisingly, Soderbergh handles this web of crisscrossing characters and plot masterfully. He ramps up tension early, making you cringe at even the thought of someone coughing on the other side of the theater. And although the film is never quite as suspenseful as those early moments again, it refuses to let your attention wane. At seemingly every perfect moment, he switches to another subplot as you become invested even deeper into the revolving door of the afflicted. Complimenting this progression is the magnetic industrial score from Cliff Martinez, as it made taut scenes even more uneasy and sometimes downright disturbing precisely when it needed to.

However, more than anything else, I adore how Contagion treated the audience as adults. There are a multitude of scenes where highly technical, sciency virus jargon is being dicussed, and thankfully Soderbergh doesn't inject some government stooge in a suit asking, "Explain that in English" at the end of them. Thankfully, he realizes that if you believe the characters understand what they're talking about and they're scarred shitless, we will be too. More filmmakers should take note of that technique.

Forget the Roland Emmerich and Michel Bay CGI extravaganzas of the last 20 years -- this is the sort of disaster movie I prefer, but that's probably because it's more of a procedural than traditional apocalyptic flick. The events depicted are completely plausible, a testament to the stellar script and strong cast. Contagion will creep you out; I know I used my sleeve-covered palms to open the door on my exit from the theater. This is real-world horror on screen.

Pardon me while I seek out a flu shot.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The 2011 Summer TV Report Card

Unlike last summer, I didn't have the time to start up any new shows or catch up on what I am behind on, so there will only be a recap of shows that finished recently. Period dramas and slice-of-life comedies were the prizes of what I was taking in this summer, but there was other good stuff too, as you'll read.
This edition covers shows having ended after June 15th, where my last recaps (part 1 & part 2) ended, through September 12th, 2011.

The Borgias
(Season 1, Showtime)
Who doesn't like a little bloodshed and sex with their papal dynasties? Or, in the case of this show, a lot? Based on the actual exploits of the Borgia family in the late 1400s, Jeremy Irons plays patriarch Rodrigo Borgia with empiric sliminess. I know I should despise him -- you know, with all the nepotism, simony, promiscuity and torturing he engages in -- but ultimately can't. Even more impressive is Fran├žois Arnaud's performance of eldest son, Cesare, whose good intentions tend to go horribly awry, not to mention his nefarious ones. The season started off strong, and before rebounding in the final few episodes, wandered excessively amongst infidelity and familial strife a bit too often for my taste. A second season has been ordered by Showtime.

(Season 1, Starz)
What began as an interesting twist upon the standard Arthurian legend we've seen numerous times over the years on film, quickly descended into a barely watchable clusterfuck in the span of 10 episodes. Plagued by dull writing and poor casting -- particularly with Jamie Campbell Bower as Arthur, who was often outright unlikable as our hero -- and those twists quickly lost their luster. Joseph Fiennes (Merlin) and Eva Green (Morgan Le Fay) could only do so much with what they were given, and usually shone above the remaining elements of the show. However, after the great James Purefoy's early exit, it was largely downhill going forward with too much emphasis on Claire Forlani as Arthur's mother (if anyone knows what the hell happened to her face since the late '90s, please let me know in the comments; botox alone can't be responsible for that mess) and the Arthur/Guinevere tryst epically failing to place two of the three involved in that love triangle in a positive light. However, Camleot's ultimate fate was likely decided when HBO's Game of Thrones, which happened to be airing at the same time, proved to garner vastly superior ratings and critical acclaim. Considering these developments, it's little wonder a second season was not ordered.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
(Season 8, HBO)
Dare I say this wass the best season yet? I really think it was. If you're not a fan of Larry David's humor, nothing here is going to change your mind about him. But for the already converted, revel in his continued brilliance. Single Larry continues to be the great driving force behind the show's resurgence, begun a few seasons ago. The year was also boosted by the mid-season relocation to New York, which gave a slight twist on typical Curb scenarios.

(Season 8, HBO)
Thank God I can finally stop watching this. Had it not been the final slew of episodes, I would've tossed it aside. There were parts of these final eight installments that were actually pretty good (the idea of Bobby Flay as Ari's nemesis was freaking hilarious while it lasted), but most of what I was prepared to applaud was negated after an extremely sloppy finale that was more interested handing out happy endings to our heroes instead of earning them (Drama's and, I suppose, Ari's were acceptable; the others were awful). Had they begun the resolution to these stories a few episodes sooner, I could've bought into them. That's how easy it would've been to get me to buy into it. But the fate of these characters were left to the genius' who didn't think something might be amiss to play Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" as their private jets took off from L.A. in the final moments of the show. *Sigh.*

Falling Skies
(Season 1, TNT)
There's a lot to like about this post-alien invasion drama produced by Steven Spielberg. Decent cast, decent writing and decent production value. Overall, it's a decent show. Nothing wrong with that. The creature work and special effects are pretty darn good actually, which was a nice touch. But I was never excited to see the next episode, probably because it generally played it safe. Battlestar Galactica it is not. It is, however, family friendly and feels like a Spielberg production, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your preferences. I dug the cliffhanger at the end of the season, and it will be back next summer, so you can expect another report on the show in a year's time.

Game of Thrones
(Season 1, HBO)
Summarizing this one is a challenge. Packed with plot and unafraid to do horrible things to characters you adore, every episode of Game of Thrones was thoroughly enjoyable -- even the ones where you find yourself yelling "NO!" at the screen. This entire season was based upon the first novel in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series. (I've begun reading it because I'm dying to know what happens next. The differences between the book and show are minor, although the book predictably contains more detail. I still have about 200 more pages to go, however, so that may change.) It's a fantasy series, but not really much like Lord of the Rings and definitely not like some of the other period action/dramas cable pay channels have been broadcasting in recent years.  Curiously, much of the show probably can be boiled down to people literally sitting around talking about shit that went down 20 years ago (without the aid of flashbacks, no less). But even when Game of Thrones does this, it somehow remains riveting. I really think it has something for everyone. There's so much character depth and development for an almost exhaustive list of cast, and they're presented with suburb performances, cinematography and direction. This has quickly become a must-watch show.

The Hour
(Series 1, BBC)
For some reason this was billed as a British Mad Men by mainstream reviewers. Aside from being set in a comparable time period (in this case a few years earlier, in the mid-1950s), being well written and produced, and everyone smoking all the time, there is really nothing the two have in common. A better comparison would probably be to look at it against some of Aaron Sorkin's work. While not at that level, what The Hour excelled at was driving and peppering the narrative with (usually) strong and eloquent dialogue, although not necessarily realistic. But there's a elements of murder mystery and espionage genres mixing in with the forefront subjects of television journalism ingratiating itself with global and national politics of the time. And, since it's a British production, social class is an ever-present theme as well. It was great to see Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty from The Wire) do good work again as on-air anchor Hector Madden. But, for me, Romola Garai stole the show as Bel Rowley. With the Mad Men set up, I immediately identified her as this show's Peggy Olsen, which is an apt correlation, but I found her character to be far more interesting (and you know I love me some Peggy Olsen). Most of the rest of the cast was fantastic as well, and the next installment of the show is high on my watchlist.

(Season 2, FX)
As much as I enjoy Curb Your Enthusiasm, the formula Larry David utilizes for each episode is highly transparent, which is why I can't give it a higher rating. Not so with Louie, which is always unpredictable and constantly hilarious, even in the most gut-wrenching moments of Louie CK's blackest humor. This second season has solidified this show amongst the elite comedies on the air now, and it looks like it'll remain there for the foreseeable future. There's really no need to re-watch previous episodes if you're coming around late to the show, as there's no continuing plot to be concerned with. That is, of course, if you're okay with denying yourself awesome television.

(Season 4, BBC/Starz)
After two mixed bag seasons and a third brilliant one, the Doctor Who spinoff returned with a slew of changes. Unfortunately, the American version of this show really just didn't work for me. It wasn't until I sat down to write this that I realized how much I didn't care about anything that happened on Torchwood: Miracle Day this season, and kinda hated most of the new characters I was supposed to root for. The season's plot -- suddenly no one in the world is able to die and mass chaos ensues, hence the "Miracle Day" subtitle -- was initially an intriguing one, but as the source of that disaster was revealed in such cartoony fashion, it was hard to take any of the real-world implications presented seriously. That said, there was one amazing episode (written by the always great Jane Epenson) shoe-horned into the middle of the season that sorta made watching the others worth it. But it was a flashback episode that ultimately only gave us the first kernel of what the big bad reveal ended up being, as well as a giant red herring that cost another episode, and little else. If Torchwood is to return, could Russell Davies please embrace the time-traveling, tri-sexual adventures of Captain Jack Harkness? I can't imagine I'm the only one who would rather see those than the haphazard yet dull exploits of the new Torchwood team. Hell, let them travel with him if you want to keep it a team show; just make it more interesting. The peices are already there for you. Stop merely alluding to them and make use of what you've created. Whoops. How'd I get onto this soapbox?

(Season 2, HBO)
This is not a show for everyone. While season 2 improved upon stabilizing the narrative structure presented last year, it's still a bit scattered, mainly because there are so many characters covering just about every major walk of life in New Orleans and a few in New York City as well. You could make the argument that David Simon intended to make the show's scrambled nature in season 1 slowly come together mirror life in post-Katrina NOLA, but I think you're giving him a little too much credit. There is no villain. There are just clusters of loosely connected people trying to live their lives in the wake of one of the greatest tragedies to strike our nation in recent memory.

True Blood
(Season 4, HBO)
As much as The Walking Dead tried to make zombies the new vampires last year, those bloodsuckers aren't about to be dethroned just yet, especially if they continue to give us gratuitous action and sex scenes as True Blood is so fond of doing. (And have we really gotten to the point where we want to see nekkid zombies? I think not.) Following last year's expansion of supernatural creatures with werewolves, the addition of witches and magic to the forefront was an excellent decision. There were still usual missteps, most notably spending an insane amount of time with that baby all just to explain that Lafayette had lots of magic mojo, which was obvious before this season anyhow. But to my complete surprise, the show actually wrapped up most of its storylines in satisfactory fashion and set up some of next year's as well (it finally looks like some good Terry and Andy stuff is on the horizon in season 5). All in all, this was the strongest season of True Blood yet, and there's still plenty of things they could improve upon.
I'll be checking back in at the close of the year with what should be another great collection of returning fall shows, including Boardwalk Empire, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia and, of course, Breaking Bad.
There are some new ones that seem interesting and I'll be checking those out as well (but who knows if they will stick in my rotation), namely Person of Interest, Terra Nova and the American version of Prime Suspect.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes - "Bug"

Context- and commentary-free moments from this week's episode.

Episode 9, Season 4
airdate: September 11th, 2011

"Should I even ask?"
"I wouldn't."
- Walter White, Hitman Mike
"Can you walk? Then get the fuck outta here and never come back."
- Jesse Pinkman

"Hermanos" - Episode 8
"Problem Dog" - Episode 7
"Cornered" - Episode 6

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes - "Hermanos"

Context- and commentary-free moments from this week's episode.

Episode 8, Season 4
airdate: September 4th, 2011

"This is what comes of 'blood for blood,' Hector. Sangre por sangre."
- Gustavo Fring
"Pollos Hermanos, where something delicious is always cooking."
- Gustavo Fring
"It wasn't until the, uh, 5th grade that I found out that she liked me too. But by then, her family had moved to Scottsdale, so... (sigh).  Carpe diem, okay?"
- Saul Goodman
"What if this is like math? Or algebra? You know, you add a plus douchebag to a minus douchebag, then you get, like, zero douchebags."
- Jesse Pinkman
"Look at me, Hector. Look. At. Me.
Maybe next time."
- Gustavo Fring

"Problem Dog" - Episode 7
"Cornered" - Episode 6

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Fuzz Box - A Genres & Judgements Mixture

Hey, look! A post without "breaking" in the title.

Had to make a sudden trip out of town, so I won't be able to devote much time to this week's post as I had planned. Fortunately, a reflection upon the state of Marvel's Ultimate Comics line can wait a little while. So here's a quick mix of songs I've been listening to over the last month or so instead. I needed to put some tunes together for my trip anyhow, so yadda-yadda...two birds. The next mixture will get a proper breakdown of each song, I promise.

Description and track list available after the jump.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Awesome BREAKING BAD Quotes - "Problem Dog"

Context- and commentary-free moments from this week's episode.

Actually, there were probably more great parts of the episode that occurred in silence this week (Walt's demeanor in the parking lot, Skyler's face in the carwash office, Hank's DEA boss' raised eyebrows when he passed over that final file), but that's not what we do here.

Episode 7, Season 4
airdate: August 28, 2011

"Big doings today. The order of the day is 'eyes open, mouth shut.'"
- Hitman Mike

"You pick up the rock, you go right to the dark side. Anything can happen."
- Old dude in group therapy
 "I made you my bitch. You accept?"
- Jesse Pinkman


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 2)

As promised, here's Part 2. Missed Part 1? No problemo.
Breaking Down the 2011 Television Season (Part 1)

This edition covers shows having ended after January 1st, when my last recap took us up until, through early June 2011.

(Season 2, FX)
Damn. As much as I loved the first season, Justified took itself to another level in 2011. Raylan Givens is still an uber bad-ass, and continues to take unconventional approaches in administering the law. This year's big bad was played by longtime character actress Margo Martindale who was simply brilliant as the ruthless matriarch of the backwoods Bennett clan. (Normally I'm not an advocate for such things, but if she doesn't win the Supporting Actress Emmy she's been nominated for, I'd be impressed to see who outdid her onscreen.) And thankfully last year's lead villain didn't leave us either, as Boyd is still causing problems in Harlan County through his good intentions and old habits. In addition to all the great tough-guy moments that are never in short supply on the show, this year the emotional tones took a giant leap forward, as Raylan had a seemingly constant barrage of tough decisions and intense hardships presented before him throughout the season. In my mind, Justified is one of the elite shows on television today and has the potential to get even better in subsequent seasons.

The Killing
(Season 1, AMC)
The most disappointing series of the year? Pretty much; I can't think of another. Which is such a shame because although the first three episodes failed to explain much more of what happened to Rosie Larson than the rest of season ended up revealing, there was a delicious mystery teased in such a fascinating manner that I was completely drawn in then. And given AMC's track record, I was guilty of assuming that we'd get answers by the end like Rubicon gave us. Not so. Which is why it's so curious that The Killing will actually be back for season 2. As lame as the first season ended up being, there was enough groundwork laid that another 13 episodes could fix the those missteps. I plan on giving it a chance to right the ship. I don't know if many more of the original audience be joining me though.

Lights Out
(Season 1, FX)
A modern boxing drama that initially played into many of the genre's tropes we've seen in various movies over the years, but later revealed some well-plotted storylines that were expertly executed onscreen. At times, this was a freaking great show. Unfortunately, it never gathered up much of an audience and had some missteps as the season went along before FX finally KO'd it. (This just in: I'm hilarious.) The season has an amazing ending, one of the boldest of the year. Amazingly it was written and shot before they knew if they were renewed or not. How they would have gone forward after that would really have been something to see unfold. It worked wonderfully as a series finale, but probably would have been my favorite season finale had a second season been ordered. Lights Out joins both Terriers and Rubicon as the new shows I wish had made it this year; it belongs in third place on that list. Even though it was cancelled and had some consistency problems, I still feel it's worth watching down the road.

Modern Family
(Season 2, ABC)
A good first season was followed up by a good second season. I'm a little disappointed it wasn't better than the first season, but I guess not everything can be Community. The achievement this year was rounding out young Luke into an actual character instead of the dumb kid who ran into the sliding glass door. Now he's basically a mini version of his dad. Everyone else was pretty much the same as they were the year before with some slight tweaks. I think the level where the show is at now is where we can expect it to remain for awhile -- good laughs each week, but nothing that's gonna blow your mind.

Mr. Sunshine
(Season 1, ABC)
This mid-season replacement comedy was cancelled after its only season, which wasn't much of a surprise. Matthew Perry ran the Sunshine Center, an arena that housed sporting events, concerts and other special events that are brought in to arenas. He's the least quirky employee in the place. Allison Janney (The West Wing) was surprisingly funny as his crazy boss, but otherwise there wasn't much interesting going on.
Sigh. I can't even make this show sound interesting when I'm trying. Whatever. Next review...

The Office
(Season 7, NBC)
So. No more Steve Carell. He was great as Michael Scott, but his departure is probably a good thing for the show's chances at continued longevity, as the recent seasons have been treading water at best. To its credit, the show bounced back a little this season, especially with Michael's own action movie, Threat Level Midnight; it reminded me how good this show was at one time. Hopefully James Spader can give the show a much-needed shot in the arm. But I don't think anyone can blame him if The Office finally closes next spring.

(Season 2, NBC)
Hmm. I'm having trouble remembering what actually happened during this season. I think the show coasts on the likeability of the actors from their previous projects as opposed to the audience being drawn in by the current quality of the show. It's starting to tip ever-so-slightly to the heavy drama plots with each additional episode, as I feared it would. Still highly watchable, but it has proven that it's not essential viewing at this stage, and isn't particularly memorable either.

Parks & Recreation
(Season 3, NBC)
Hard to believe a show that stumbled so greatly when it first premiered would be able to pull off the its own complex meme of Lil' Sebastian to perfection. Out of all the fake-documentary shows airing now, this is the best one. (Btw, how much footage do these assholes need? Or is it just Mr. Brainwash behind the lens?) I think it's the relationships that really glues this show together. Leslie & Ben. Andy & April. Tom & Jean-Ralphio. Ron Swanson & red meat. It took its time getting there, but Parks & Rec has become worthy of inclusion in the best-comedies-on-television discussion.

(Season 1, Showtime)
This is the American version of an apparently very successful British show (there have been 8 seasons and counting) about the Gallaghers, a low-income family in west side of Chicago. Well, maybe "low-income" is too generous; these six kids and their deadbeat dad (the great William H. Macy) are basically a no-income family, doing every oddjob and pulling as many scams as they can to get by. That probably sounds too depressing to start watching. But know that Shameless doesn't take the route of over-examining the socioeconomic struggles of these hopelessly downtrodden people. If anything, there are more moments of pure joy on display than the woe-is-me attitude they easily could've gone with (even when they are engaging in morally bankrupt acts, like stealing food out from the back of delivery truck). And that happens because these kids are smart (literally brilliant in one case) and ultimately they just want to be kids and have some fun. Meanwhile, Macy plays Frank Gallagher as more than just the drunken, deadbeat father he is -- he repeatedly has clownish moments and sometimes even Shakespearean-esque soliloquies. There's really nothing else like this on American TV right now.

(Season 10, CW)
After 10 years, there's no more weekly adventures featuring Clark Kent. Sad. I'll miss it and there doesn't seem to be a cheesy replacement of good constantly triumphing over evil these days. Too bad. (Edit: Mike tells me SyFy's Alphas is a contender.) Curiously, Smallville became a better show the more they allowed themselves to play in the sandbox of DC Comics, which is funny considering how much they avoided it in the early years. By now, if you're not a fan, you're probably not going to watch it. I don't know that the early seasons would still hold up now anyhow. But it worked wonderfully at the end. To see Clark Kent finally become It was awesome. I didn't expect it, but I actually shed a few tears during the final sequence. I guess when a show pulls off pretty much the perfect ending, it'll do that to you.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
(Season 3, Cartoon Network)
To give you a sense of how much better this show has gotten since that, well, unfortunate theatrical release in 2008, I actually look forward to watching The Clone Wars when it airs each week. Even the Padme and (amazingly) the Jar-Jar episodes are tolerable. A few years ago, I was a big fan of a couple of the expanded universe comics written by John Ostrander that Dark Horse was putting out. While the show hasn't quite gotten to the quality achieved there, it's clear the creators of this show are paying more attention to the good stuff from those expanded universe tales than they are to the drab prequel films. Quinlan Vos even showed up for an episode, albeit with a surfer-dude voice. But after my initial disappointment in that decision wore off, I realized at the end of the day this is a kids show. Basically the lesson here is Star Wars continues to be great the further away from the hands of George Lucas it gets, which is good news for the long-rumored live-action show I've been reading about for so many years.

(Season 6, CW)
For some reason I was under the impression that this would be the last year for Winchester boys to kill all sorts of evil monsters, and it actually held up as swan song season for the most part. But after getting solid ratings yet again (by CW standards), we're going to get another one. The past three seasons have built on the show's Christian mythology, which is a lot more interesting to me than chasing after vampires, ghosts and yellow-eyed deamons every week. Now their challenge is to make Sam wholly likeable again, but that shouldn't be too difficult as long as they don't suddenly abandon the show's formula.

Underbelly Files
(Made-For-TV Movies, Nine Network)
These three, mainly self-contained stories have only passing connections to the first three seasons of Underbelly. But that's all they need to have because, overall, they're still interesting little crime stories in Australia's extensive criminal past. Tell Them Lucifer Was Here details the long search for the killers of two police officers who were gunned down while in the line of duty. It's the weakest of the bunch, but has the strongest connection to the main series, featuring one of the great villains of season 1. Next was Infiltration, where one detective spent many months on a deep undercover mission trying to expose the dirty deeds of a branch of the Calabrian mafia. Next there was The Man Who Got Away, about a brilliant criminal who has a penchant for escaping prisons and eluding the police at nearly every turn. Probably because I enjoy when the bad guys win more than I should, The Man Who Got Away was my favorite of the three. The better news, however, is that season 4, this time called Underbelly: Razor just started up this past week. Look for a report on that in the end of 2011 recap.
Tell Them Lucifer Was Here:  C
Infiltration:  B
The Man Who Got Away:  B+
Since I took such a long time to write these last two entries, you'll only have to wait another few weeks until I'll be posting my reviews of the shows from Summer, which will include Falling Skies, The Hour, Louie and Game of Thrones.