Monday, June 29, 2009

Hung, a better review from someone who has seen couple of episodes

After True Blood last night I decided to watch HBO's new show Hung, which is sadly not a show about the slightly autistic Asian American Idol contestant turned international mockery, but about a guy with a big penis (love the high concept there. I should have sent that to IFC's podcast). It was slow moving in the first 20 minutes, so I wasn't very disappointed when I had to leave, cutting my television watching short. I knew I wanted to come back to it though because the pilot was directed by Alexander Payne and I love me some Alexander Payne ( ala Election). I ended up doing so and I liked the series. I was going to write a review on it for today, when I came across a better review (surprise, surprise) from AV Club. One of the major reasons why this is a better review is because the person who wrote it actually has seen the first 4 episodes, so when he gives you hope to keep watching, it has more grounding than my ramblings you could be reading right now.

Hung "Pilot"

Hung debuts tonight on HBO at 9 p.m. CDT.

There’s maybe no TV creator better at charting America’s uneasy relationship with its money than Dmitry Lipkin. His shows almost always have over-obvious elements or brutally stereotypical characters, but they’re uniquely tuned in to the way Americans feel about the cash they do or don’t bring home. His The Riches, which lasted two seasons on FX, was yet another suburban satire, anchored by two great performances from Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver, and as a suburban satire, it was a little cliché. But as an examination of just how fake all of the money that piled up in the real estate bubble of the mid-aughts was and just how terrified everyone involved was to lose that money, it worked terrifically. Lipkin tried to push things too far toward broader, over-arching satire on that show, but on his new series, HBO’s Hung, he grounds his commentary on American society in a much more pressing economic reality – the long, seemingly empire-ending slide into bankruptcy we find ourselves in now.

Hung is set in Detroit, one of the ground zeroes of our economic catastrophe, and its opening shots feature a stadium being torn down, abandoned factories, utter desolation. These all play under a monologue from gym teacher-turned-manwhore Ray Drecker (don’t worry; this all comes up in the first five minutes … and the advertisements) about how the country his parents loved has turned into a cesspool. It’s the sort of pragmatic, ever-so-slightly self-centered economic conservatism (what’s up with all the taxes?, basically) that drove much of Tony Soprano’s rage at the emasculation of the American male (though Tony had other things driving his rage, granted), and it’s perfectly contextualized here as the driving force behind a man who seems to have lost himself from his storied youth. From there, Ray loses his house to a fire and his kids to his ex-wife, and as he slowly finds himself slipping farther and farther off the economic radar, he has to turn to desperate measures.

The best thing here, surprisingly, is Thomas Jane, one of those movie stars who never happened, now turning to TV parts. Jane’s low-key charisma never quite worked on the big screen, where current male lead parts require someone with a bit more spark, but as a TV everyman, he’s surprisingly charismatic, turning Ray’s every word and move into what feel like last-ditch options, the things someone would do when backed into a corner. Jane’s easy-going nature and the brutal sense of disappointment he projects as the character makes the idea that Ray would come to the idea of becoming a prostitute so easily work almost better than it should. Ray’s such a good-natured guy that you get the sense he thinks sharing his gift with the world is something he’d jump to fairly quickly.

Ray, you see, has a big penis. (And thank God I don’t have to write for an outlet that makes me write around the show’s central premise and the reason for its title.) And that big penis is known for giving women a good time in the sack, as evidenced by his ex-wife and a one-night stand who found him especially invigorating. When he goes to a session designed to help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps and is asked to find his special gift (or, as the seminar leader puts it, his “tool”), he realizes that the only thing he has going for him is that penis. So, of course, prostitution.

I realize as I write this that this all sounds a little too TV-y, so to speak. It’s definitely a high-ish concept, not as high concept as, like, Ray discovering he’s a secret sex robot or something, but also not so low concept as to never sell to a major network. Even if the idea of Ray becoming a prostitute is the necessary evil Lipkin must indulge in to get this show on the air, though, most things about his journey in the pilot are shot through with the kind of observational skill Lipkin brought to much of The Riches. That seminar Ray attends is one of the simultaneously saddest and funniest things I’ve seen on TV in a while, bouncing between the desperation of a bunch of people who’ve watched their dreams dry up, their absolutely awful ideas for how to pull themselves out of the holes they find themselves in and the genuine humor in those ideas. Ray’s friend and former sexual conquest Tanya , for example, wants to create a loaf of bread with poetry at its center (like a fortune cookie), and in the hands of character actress Jane Adams and from Lipkin’s script, this idea veers between funny and depressing so quickly that it almost sells the entire pilot.

Similarly, the first gigolo job Ray gets called out on ends unexpectedly, in a terrifically shot and edited little sequence where a hotel peephole becomes both another character and a silent commentator on the action. Alexander Payne, of Sideways and Election fame, directed the pilot, and his deceptively flat style is a good match for the desolation that surrounds Ray at every moment and the wry tone of the script. He also gets great performances from Jane and Adams, whose duo forms the central axis point the series will revolve around (without spoiling too much).

Hung is far from perfect, it should be said, just like The Riches was. In the pilot, at least, Ray’s ex-wife Jessica is played by Anne Heche at her Anne Heche-iest, though the script does her no favors by making Jessica the kind of emasculating witch that too many ex-wives on TV are. Lipkin gives Jessica some choice lines (“I’m only shallow because I CHOOSE to be!”), but the whole idea of the ex-wife who’s a constant, nagging premise at the edges of her ex-husband’s life is so lifeless and dull at this point, that I don’t need to ever see it again. There’s also stuff within the premise that feels a little too forced (like the idea of Ray living in a tent while he repairs his house that burned down), as though Lipkin wants to remind us at all times that we’re watching a comedy, not a drama with comedic elements. The music, in addition, is often a bit too twee, as if trying to remind us at all times to smile. And, yeah, the story in the pilot is a little shaggy, even if I liked the structure of how the pilot got Ray back to the point where he started the pilot.

But I’d recommend you start watching Hung. Like most HBO shows before it, it’s a bit of a slow builder, but it’s trying to chart out a very particular world. In this case, though, that world feels so immediate because it’s the world that you and I and everyone else in this country is living in right now. Hung has some rough edges, but at its center is a very good show.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

And then Buffy actually staked Edward

As a fan of movie mash-ups, this one might move to the top of the list. It may even be higher than the Brokeback to the Future amazing mashing of greatest. Rebellious Pixels have created a mash-up of Twilight and Buffy in which Buffy brings to light all the crazy stalkerish and creepy things that apparently all of the starstruck teenage girls don't realize. What completes and makes this mash-up awesome is when Edward says "You're like my own personal brand of heroin", Buffy responds with "What are you, 12?". Not romantic Edward. Bella should have dusted you at that point.

Yea, yea, she sorta dusts Cedric Diggory, but really, doesn't matter. Too bad Edward doesn't get all wrinkly face, but that would ruin his prestige as a sparkly vampire...ha. I do have to admit that Twilight does have an awesome soundtrack. So question, if Buffy staked Edward, then does that mean no New Moon? We can only hope...wait a second. Did Edward Cullen just get hit by a taxi cab? There is a God!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why do I let these things get me addicted?

I wanted to write an entry on the Real World/ Road Rules Challenge because every season I get sucked in and addiction prevails, but I was scrolling through Slate and one the writers did a great article on how she is also addicted to the show, along with ESPN's Bill Simmons who dedicated an entire podcast to MTV show.

The Real World/Road Rules ChallengeIt's been on for 17 seasons. Why I can't stop watching.

Real World Road Rules Challenge: The Duel 2. Click image to expand.Here's a fun little wakeup call: The Real World/Road Rules Challenge is wrapping up its 17th season tomorrow night. That's right, 17: still too young to drink but plenty old enough to drive. It's just one season behind the most durable reality challenge series, Survivor, and three ahead of Emmy magnet The Amazing Race. It shows up twice a year, as predictably as Memorial and Labor Day, and it's just been renewed for four more seasons.

It's also the only reality challenge series that never gets old. In a genre that has made a fetish of sticking to formula, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge freshens up the franchise every season. Even the title sequences change each time around—and for this season, The Duel 2, it's a doozy. In an homage to host country New Zealand, the contestants stomp and flail and grimace and flap their tongues in an excruciating approximation of the Maori dance known as the Haka. You want to look away … and you just can't.

Now I'm the first to admit it: I'm too old for this show. At least, I should be. It's about a bunch of self-absorbed twentysomethings, for heaven's sake—the spawn of an incestuous liaison between the absurdly tenacious (and increasingly sleazy) The Real World and its own spinoff, the now-defunct Road Rules. But by rolling a soap opera, a reality show, and a sports event into one energetic, artfully edited bundle, it transcends its tawdry origins. The sleeper hit of MTV, RW/RR: The Duel 2 has been winning its time slot among its 12-to-34 target demographic on cable and broadcast, with its audience growing season to season (unlike The Hills, which has seen its numbers drop).

Each season, around two dozen cast members from the two parent shows—equal numbers male and female—are jetted to an exotic locale and bunked up together in a Real World-style luxury pad. All the requisite reality TV stereotypes are present and accounted for, often in multiples: the psycho, the good guy, the gay, the lesbian, the bisexual, the minority, the meathead, the drunk, the asshole, the bitch, the sweetheart, the floozy—even the cancer survivor. The usual frat-house shenanigans ensue—everyone parties, vomits, fights, hooks up, and behaves as badly as humanly possible.

So far, so formulaic. The twist is that each morning, hangovers be damned, these players have to make the unlikely transformation from party animal to warrior. Each one is either a repeat player—a "veteran"—or drafted onto the show from the most recent Real World installment—a "rookie." Different themes are rotated from season to season—Battle of the Sexes, the Inferno, the Gauntlet, the Duel—each determining the mode of combat and team formats, which vary from men vs. women; "Good Guys" vs. "Bad Asses"; veterans vs. rookies; or, as in this season's The Duel 2, no teams at all. Players compete in a series of extreme challenges that result in elimination playoffs so brutal, they'd make an American Gladiator weep.

Elimination rules also get switched up season to season. (It gets confusing, but you quickly learn to just go with the flow.) These changes work to shake up the natural patterns of dominance—veterans ganging up on rookies, males picking off females, meatheads freezing out the gays. One game-changing maneuver was Season 12's Fresh Meat challenge, when veterans were forced to partner up with complete newcomers, throwing off alliance patterns carried over from previous challenges.

Each season RW/RR amps up the intensity of the challenges as well. For the first few years, the series had a distinct Survivor meets Fear Factor vibe—there was jousting on slippery poles, suspension in slop-filled tanks, wrestling with muddy pigs, puzzles. But somewhere along the way, RW/RR turned into the Thunderdome. Challenges began involving harnesses and helmets and ropes and straps and chains and platforms suspended hundreds of feet in the air—all of them requiring Herculean levels of endurance and fearlessness. The one-on-one elimination rounds became as fierce as MMA. Ankles get sprained, shoulders dislocated, kneecaps busted. One guy even got a hernia. But nothing stops these players—they pummel and kick and slam one another when they're in battle and connive, cheat, and backstab when they're not. All this for a $300,000 prize that gets split between maybe half a dozen people. It's deliciously barbaric.

To keep up with the game's constant evolution, veterans show up a little more enhanced each time. Guys who were merely built in previous challenges return as pumped as Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. The girls beef up too—breast implants are now practically de rigueur. They'd all be right at home in the WWE. (In fact, one former RW/RR player is—Mike "The Miz" Mizanin, from The Real World: Back to New York. He recently graduated from the ECW to Raw.) In 11 years, RW/RR has managed to create its very own monster breed of reality star.

RW/RR's hard-core arena-style athleticism hasn't gone unnoticed in the sports world. ESPN's Bill Simmons frequently writes and chats about RW/RR. He recently devoted the full hour of his B.S. Report podcast to deconstructing The Duel 2's first episode with ESPN producer Dave Jacoby, another die-hard RW/RR fan, ruminating on everything from the prowess of the players and the intensity of the challenges to the sheer size of the guys. "I really feel like The Duel II should replace the NHL as our fourth professional sport," Simmons declared. "It's more interesting, it's easier to follow, it gets higher ratings. … What are we waiting for?"

It's indisputable that the train-wreck factor is a huge part of RW/RR's appeal. These kids are Real World and Road Rules alumni. They're professional narcissists with rock-star attitudes, ready and willing to do anything it takes to stand out from the pack. They're A-listers in their own personal blockbuster movies, headliners in the Madison Square Gardens of their minds. Between seasons, many of them get hired as hosts on the party circuit. (Two cast members are already confirmed for StudentCity's Ultimate Spring Break Experience in 2010.) They all hang out together off-screen, and relationships of every stripe come and go. All that drama gets brought back into the game: Players drag all the grudges and hookups and betrayals and broken hearts that prevail in this incestuous, hermetically sealed little world right along with them into each new season.

Because you get to know everyone's foibles, you're given the luxury to form relationships with the characters and anticipate what's going to happen—that C.T. (the psycho) will get in a fight the very first night and get eliminated, again; that Paula (the floozy) will latch onto one of the alpha males; that Evan (the asshole) will screw somebody over to get ahead; that Evelyn (the lesbian) will keep getting voted into the elimination round and keep winning; and that Diem (the cancer survivor) will manage to coast on the sympathy vote but never quite make the final cut. Yet there's also always a new twist. The only predictable thing about the show is the way host T.J. Lavin praises players by saying "You killed it" in his skater-dude monotone, week in and week out. But I'd rather hear that than Survivor's "I'll go tally the votes" any day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How can Bravo make Real Housewives of New Jersey better?

I had high hopes for Real Housewives of New Jersey. Big hair, big House, big Wallets I thought would be money for big drama, right. Well drama New Jersey has, but addictiveness and entertainment value comparable to its Real Housewife cousins it does not. So I thought to myself, what could make Real Housewives of New Jersey better? After acknowledging that scrounging up an entirely new cast was out of the question, I realized that the show really does have potential.
1. Find a Jill, Nene, or Vicki. I watched Real Housewives of New York to watch Jill mock everyone which made me laugh. I watched Real Housewives of Hotlanta to watch Nene insult everyone which made me laugh. I watched Real Housewives of the GOP to watch Vicki make a fool of herself while drunk which made me laugh. But no one, absolutely no one purposely makes me laugh on Real Housewives of New Jersey. Yea, Teresa's obsession with her mosquito bite bubbies is occasionally funny, but there is no comedic note to that show. There has to be some mafia welding Jill leaving amongst the gates of that gaudy community they live in.

2. Make the housewives less incestuous. Pretty much everyone on that show is related. I know that you were trying to go for the "mafia" family mentality, but really it isn't working. I watch Real Housewives for constant bitching amongst middle aged rich women, but there can't really be bitching when over half the cast is related.

3. Get rid of boring, spineless Jacqueline. First, she isn't funny. Second, she doesn't bring drama. Third, she can't stand up to her sisters-in- law. Fourth, she has no personality. The only reason why you have her is because you were expecting that she would bring drama because she is related to Caroline and Dina, but besties with Danielle. Yea, I understand that in most cases this would yield drama, but in the case of Jacqueline who can't even stand up to her 18 year old daughter, all you have is an empty space.

4. Keep Dina. Dina is the best part of that show. She doesn't care that what she says will hurt someone. She is always causing drama. And she is crazy, just like when she was on My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding. She always knows when to start things with other housewives. Her and Jill (NYC) and Nene (ATL) would have fun together.

We can only hope something great comes from the last supper.

I'm a Celebri-Wannabe... Please let me Stay!

Yea, I know, I haven't posted in a while but it is because I have been busy. Ya know, with appendix bursting issues and watching way too much reality television. Reality television like I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here. Oh this show is effing amazing. It isn't amazing because of an unique jungle setting (umm remember Survivor) or its new idea of having a collection of celebri-wannabes (wait a second, wasn't that the Surreal Life). It couldn't even come up with an original challenge idea (didn't there used to be a show where people ate disgusting bugs and testicles like every episode...FEAR FACTOR!). What makes I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here amazingly addictive is well, just watching it.

The cast!
Yes, the cast is diverse, actually known, and still wanting the attention and the publicity that being on a celeb-reality show will give. First there is Heidi and Spencer, whom I guess people are calling Spiedi now. Being too rich and famous for the show because you know, they are on the lucrative and critically acclaimed career maker called The Hills, Spiedi were on the show, then threatened to leave the show, then decided they would stay on the show, then left the show, oh and then spent the night in a cabin with like 2 spiders, and decided to come back to the show. Between being bipolar and talking to God, Spiedi have pretty much made the show. Sadly they left the show because Heidi had a stomach ache. They aren't the only ones though. There is Sanjaya who looks like he has smallpox which go nicely with his awesome mohawk, Janice Dickenson who looks like someone punched her in the face, Patty Blagojevich who actually tried to sell her spot but no one bothered to bid for it, Two Baldwins whom for years I just thought were the same person, John Sealy who I sorta remember playing basketball before becoming Tom Arnold's bitch, Lou Diamond Phillips who is actually still looking for his career (here's a clue, it's still in the 80's) and there are some other people too who don't really matter. Now put them in a jungle and let them tear labels off of dry shampoo and widdle trees!

The Ninth Cast Member
God. At times I feel like I am watching Jesus Camp, the movie that gave me nightmares for weeks. I have a question first. When did Stephen Baldwin become John the Baptist? Seriously, Stephen Baldwin baptized Spencer Pratt. If that doesn't make for a good television show then what does? (good writing, good acting, interesting plots, actual celebrities) Not only were there baptisms, but Heidi prayed her way through the spider-infested cabin and Spencer told about his life touching moment of praying for a double date with Miley Cyrus and it coming true. If only someone could mock them... like Janice Dickenson.

I hate my life too, but seriously Patty, shut the fuck up about your husband. Wait, that is why you are on the show. To give sympathy for your husband. Well don't worry because Spencer has your back. He even said that as soon as the show is done he is going to go to Chicago and stage a rally and let everyone know the truth: that Rob Blagojevich actually offered him the senate seat but Spencer is just too rich and famous to be surrounded by those people in the senate. The Hills have seriously done wonders for his career as... I have no idea, the Hills never told me what Spencer does.

One word--Crazy. He actually made a broom to sweep the dirt because the campsite was just so dirty. I would like to remind the body that the entire show takes place outside, in a jungle.

Besides over playing it (NBC is currently airing this show 5 nights a week and at times for 2 hours), I don't know what they could do to make this awesome concept better. I know, get rid of that dumb TRL host that no one remembered the name of because he wasn't Carson Daily.