Saturday, November 17, 2012

Podcast Episode 24: The Doctors Are In: Checking Up on the Fall 2012 TV Season

In this week's episode we check up and grade ten popular shows and their new seasons. The shows include 30 Rock, Dexter, Homeland, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, The Office, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, Revenge, and The Walking Dead.

We also discuss Channing Tatum being named the sexiest man alive, Disney buying Lucas Films and the Boy Meets World spin-off. We also recap Survivor: Philippines, give our picks on who should be in the Survivor Hall of Fame, and give movie reviews for Argo and Skyfall. Finally we also tell you what we are thankful from the year of pop culture.

To listen to the episode use the player below or download/listen to the episode on iTunes!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

TV Review: Survivor 25x09: Life > Game > Lisa

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ML- Jonathan hit the nail on the head as to why he's such a beloved character on Survivor: he's a storyteller. He's basically doing the editors' jobs for them, spelling out the characters and their story. Lisa and Mike are the "Christian" group, not necessarily religious (though I know Skupin is mightily so, and I'm surprised that hasn't been made clearer given the show's recent infatuation with religious symbolism. He's been resurrected this season, for Christ's sake!) Survivor fans in the past have labeled Penner "Jonathan Christ, so he obviously fits in with them as well.

Abi-Maria, Pete and Artis are the "bully" group, and they've lived up to their title and then some. I can't believe how candid Abi-Maria is with Lisa and the rest of the tribe. She has literally no filter, and I can't hate her for it. Her immediate attack on Mike over the vote was spectacular, and I'm upset Penner 'fessed up. He may be the game's best storyteller, but he's not the best strategist.

That doesn't mean he can't work people. His manipulation of Lisa was some of the best I've ever seen done on the show. The two were both actors, though Penner never reached the same level of fame as Lisa. He came from a place of understanding, breaking down psychological barriers of child stardom. See, guys? Actors really have it rough.

Lisa pissed me off tonight. Sure, her emotional moment was touching and all. But she nearly had a breakdown after only one week of legitimate strategizing. The game, she lamented, was too big for her. Really, Lisa? A tired CBS reality show is too big for you? If Natalie White can win this, you'll be fine.

The Reward was my favorite moment, if only for the adorable misunderstanding with all the Filipino kids and Jonathan's "normal" name. Malcolm's enlightenment over giving back and working with kids again was equally moving. As hokey as the reward may seem to cynical audience members, I'm glad it had an impact on the contestants. Even mama Denise looked smitten by her herd of little ones.

Note about the Reward Challenge: A lot of people argue whether veterans have an inherent advantage returning to play again, which I mostly agree with, and I think they've proven it in the challenges this season. Mike was first to use the "toss pot high in the sky to dive at opponent" strategy a few weeks ago, and Penner's retrieval of all the bags was instrumental in Red's victory. Just saying.

The Immunity Challenge went by quickly, despite the apparent "learning curve", my favorite Probst-ism. I wondered whether I'd use my left hand to steady the paddle or roll the balls. By the time I made up my mind (hold left, roll right), Skupin had won. Good for him! Not a huge fan of his gameplay but it's nice to see him live one of his dreams. Of course, he gloated and boasted about it afterwards, in classic Skupin fashion.

He was the man to make the big move, though, despite the editing pointing us in the other direction. I bet fans who don't stick with the show to the final words assumed Lisa made the flop after all the awful treatment Abi-Maria showed her. No, Lisa still played the way of grace and loyalty and voted for Penner.

It was unsuspecting Artis who went home, though. He never really did anything of value this season except pick on Skupin, which makes sense now that Skupin got revenge. Denise was the mastermind of the plot, if you can call it that, based on her worry over Abi pulling the idol. Does Abi even know she can play her idol? Did Pete tell her yet? Either way, Denise got some positive strategy and some negative mocking of Abi finding the clam. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I'm not so sure she's our winner anymore. Is Lisa shaping up to be America's sweetheart? Will Penner keep outsmarting these whippersnappers up to Final 3? Or could Pete pull a Brian Heidik and nastily drag a goat like Abi-Maria to the end? Let me hear your thoughts below!

Episode Grade: B+
Episode MVP: Jonathan Penner
Original Airdate: 11/14/2012

FYI: Gordon Holmes over at XFinity TV is a big Survivor fan and has established the Survivor Hall of Fame. This is the third year it's running and three more past contestants will be inducted into the Hall, following in the footsteps of:

-Parvati Shallow
-Boston Rob Mariano
-Richard Hatch
-Russell Hantz
-Sandra Diaz-Twine
-Ozzy Lusth
-Cirie Fields
-Tom Westman

To vote, tweet your ballot to @SurvivorHall or like the Survivor Hall of Fame on Facebook for more info. Any player listed above and any player from the current season are ineligible.

I'll be discussing my final ballot with my Dual co-host David Allen in our new podcast coming next week, but maybe you guys can help me decide! Since there are three spots, I tend to balance between the three Survivor "O's"- Outwit, Outplay and Outlast. Here are my preliminary picks: comment and share your thoughts below to help me whittle them down!

OUTWIT- Strategic Players
-Tina Wesson (Australia & All-Stars) WINNER
-Vecepia Towery (Marquesas) WINNER
-Brian Heidik (Thailand) WINNER
-Rob Cesternino (Amazon & All-Stars)
-Jonny Fairplay (Pearl Islands & Micronesia)
-Chris Daughtery (Vanuatu) WINNER
-Yul Kwon (Cook Islands) WINNER
-Earl Cole (Fiji) WINNER
-Yau-Man Chan (Fiji & Micronesia)
-Todd Herzog (China) WINNER
-Stephen Fishbach (Tocantins)
-Sophie Clarke (South Pacific) WINNER
-John Cochran (South Pacific)
-Kim Spradlin (One World) WINNER

OUTPLAY- Physical Players
-Kelly Wigglesworth (Borneo)
-Colby Donaldson (Australia, All-Stars & Heroes vs. Villains)
-Ethan Zohn (Africa & All-Stars) WINNER
-Ian Rosenberger (Palau)
-Danni Boatwright (Guatemala) WINNER
-Aras Baskauskas (Panama) WINNER
-Terry Deitz (Panama)
-Amanda Kimmell (China, Micronesia & Heroes vs. Villains)
-James Clement (China, Micronesia & Heroes vs. Villains)
-J.T. Thomas (Tocantins & Heroes vs. Villains) WINNER
-Jud "Fabio" Birza (Nicaragua) WINNER

OUTLAST- Survivor Icons
-Susan Hawk, Rat and Snake Speech / Quit (Borneo & All Stars)
-Rudy Boesch, America's Hero (Borneo & All-Stars)
-Elisabeth Hasselbeck, The View (Australia)
-Jerri Manthey, Black Widow (Australia, All-Stars & Heroes vs. Villains)
-Jenna Morasca, Chocolate & Peanut Butter (Amazon & All-Stars) WINNER
-Rupert Boneham, America's Player (Pearl Islands, All-Stars & Heroes vs. Villains)
-Jenn Lyon, Rest In Peace (Palau)
-Stephanie LaGarossa, Last Girl Standing (Palau, Guatemala, Heroes vs. Villains)
-Erik Reichenbach, Dumbest Move Ever (Micronesia)
-Ben "Coach" Wade, Dragon Slayer (Tocantins, Heroes vs. Villains, South Pacific)

Check back next week for my final ballot in the Dual Redundancy podcast!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

TV Review: Survivor 25x08: Dumb and Dumber

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ML- Lisa, the MVP of tonight's episode despite Penner's miraculous victory, dubbed this the season of Good vs. Evil, the evil being Pete/Abi/Artis and the good everyone else. I wouldn't say they're evil (well, maybe Abi-Maria is) as so much as dumb. So many blunders were made by this alliance tonight, and still they survived unscathed, thanks to the real mastermind, Lisa.

Pete isn't completely idiotic, but he's certainly not the mastermind he claims to be. I bet if I were ever on Survivor I'd end up playing a lot like Pete: overly confident in myself to the camera, thinking I had the game figured out, when really there were countless plans unfolding outside of my awareness. His handling of Abi-Maria, the island's resident she-wolf, has been near perfect; first he turned her against her main ally RC, then he kept her close as a potential Final 3 goat. She seems to have no idea, instead suspecting everyone and everything else of being against her.

His mistake was talking to Malcolm. Lisa put her neck on the line to tell Pete about Malcolm's idol and blindside the poor bastard. Some may see this as a bad move by Lisa, but I disagree- the only reason the whole plan backfired was Pete's stupid ass confronting Malcolm. When Malcolm got flustered and nervous, it seemed like Pete had confirmed his suspicions and would join Lisa's plot.

Nope. To Pete, Malcolm acting suspicious obviously meant he wasn't hiding anything. WAT A TOOL. Malcolm is a personable guy, especially while giving confessionals, but he wears his nerves on his sleeves. He's an easy tell and Pete should have picked up on it.

Instead, the target shifted every three seconds in a genuinely exhilarating segment captured perfectly by the camera crew. Plans changed from Skupin to Malcolm to Kent to Carter to Pete, and by Tribal Council, not even the contestants knew who would be going home.

I was surprised by how candid Lisa was at Tribal. She has been eloquent in her confessionals, much like Denise, Malcolm and Penner, the main reason I like these four so much. She understands the game and knows what must be done to make it to the end- go to the end with less-likable prey. Pete gets it, too, but Pete doesn't understand he's the second-least likable guy on the beach. Anyway, Lisa was honest with everyone about outing Malcolm's idol, playing both sides and possibly messing up her game. For her, honesty seems to be helping a bit.

Honesty did not help Abi-Maria, the ever bigger idiot of the night. First she clearly spelled out the alliance divisions to Malcolm and Mike, and her backtracking to Malcolm did little to persuade him back to the Tandang side. When Malcolm actually showed off the idol for everyone to see, Jeff asked if anyone else wanted to reveal their's. There's no telling what went through Abi-Maria's head to convince her that pulling out her idol was a good idea, but reveal it she did. That goes down as one of the dumbest Tribal Council moves, for me, but since it wasn't a fatal flaw, we'll let it slide in comparison to those done by Erik in Micronesia and Brandon in South Pacific.

Before the vote, a few contestants made last-minute pleas to the group as a whole, speaking in codes regarding "Plan B". When it came time to play the idol... nobody budged. I'd say it was smart for Malcolm and Abi not to use it, as it guarantees them both at least another week.

The votes came down, with 5 for Kent (Pete, Abi-Maria, Artis, Lisa and Skupin), 4 for Pete (Kent, Carter, Malcolm and Denise) and Penner's vote for Abi. Was he truly that out of the loop and thought Abi was the target? Did he throw away his vote as a big middle finger to Jeff Kent ("I could have tied it up for you, but I didn't")? Or was he stirring up trouble, as Abi-Maria will surely go on a witch hunt to track down the voter, a la Lex in Africa? I'm hoping it's the third one, and she delivers and epic meltdown.

Jeff Kent was admired by many, but not so much by me. He misplayed his hand last week and therefore deserves an early ouster. As he said in his final words, he's made over $60 million playing baseball, he doesn't need $1 million (before taxes, as mentioned in a well-timed but poorly-attributed dig to Obama) from this silly little game. Sure, Kent, remind us how successful you were. Keep padding your ego. Probst will probably ask you back for another season.

My prediction from last week was right! Jeff Kent went home, though I expected it to be a lot less confusing than this. My Final 9 prediction was Carter, and I'm still relatively confident in that, provided Jonathan did enough to turn the attention away from him. Who knows where this season is gonna go, but I'm finally coming around to it.

Episode Grade: A-
Episode MVP: Lisa Whelchel
Original Airdate: 11/07/2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

TV Recap: Survivor 25x06 & 25x07: Down to The Final 10

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ML- Many apologies for the belated reviews from the past 2 weeks of Survivor. Scheduling shows in has been difficult with a full schedule, let alone forming reviews. This season has been interesting, but I'm still waiting for it to kick into high gear. The merge episode could be seen as a step in the right direction, or an example of continued mediocre gameplay.

First, a jump back to the previous week, where Katie was eliminated. Kalabaw (which I unintentionally referred to as Kalabal every episode, showing how invested I am in this season) and Tandang faced a stalemate in the big ball Reward Challenge and struck a deal over rice. Tandang, which was consuming ALL OF THE RICE thanks to Skupin's selfish ways, agreed to take rice while Penner and the Kalabaws (awesome band name, by the way) took the big barbeque reward.

I'm surprised at how the deal was edited. Survivor fans know that big feast rewards may seem great going in, but they always go right through contestants' systems, leaving them worse off. A stable cache of rice would be the smarter, less appetizing move. The editors decided to show Skupin as the idiot and Penner as the hero, however. This really doesn't bode well for Skupin's chances at winning the game.

He wasn't in much of a position to win, anyway, but could have been had he and RC joined forces with  Jeff Kent and the Kalabaws (anything "and the Kalabaws" sounds awesome for a band). Jeff Kent had two options: keep himself, Carter, a loyal Penner, Denise, RC and Michael together and boot Pete. Sure, Malcolm is a threat, but for the first week it wouldn't be smart to put Denise in a position of having to backstab her ally. That way, the opposing power alliance of Pete, Abi, Artis and Lisa could be disintegrated, and future blindsides could be in play for Malcolm, Penner and Skupin. Kent and Carter could leisurely stroll to the finals and Kent could win.

Instead, he freaked out over returning players and targeted Jonathan and his idol. It backfired, and he lost a potential ally. Now it's Kent vs. Penner and Tandang has an even greater majority despite losing a number in RC. Denise must be a bad luck charm because all the tribes she's a part of die.

The most important part of the episode was Lisa finding Malcolm's idol and striking a Final 3 deal with him and Denise. This could potentially work out, provided Pete and Abi don't make a surge to the endgame. As Malcolm said, though, going to the finals with either of those ladies could be Survivor suicide, as they'd garner social votes. Lisa is impressing me with her Holly Hoffman-style strategic comeback, but previews for next week show her getting pretty trigger-happy (machete-happy?).

So Final 10. Here are my perfect predictions for how the rest of the season will play out:

10. Jeff Kent. The Penner "slash and burn" preview is a false alarm, as it was for Rory in Vanuatu and Sandra in HvV. Kent is more of a threat since Penner is idol-less.
9. Carter. Kent's lackey.
8. Penner. Goodbye, America's Happy Warrior.
7. Pete. Malcolm/Denise/Lisa pull in Mike to turn the tide.
6. Abi-Maria.
5. Artis.
4. Lisa.
3. Skupin. Returning player fatigue/unlikable
2. Malcolm. Close but...
1. Denise. No cigar. Denise survives every Tribal Council and defeats her former Matsing ally by 1 vote.

Episode Grades: B, B+
Episodes MVP: Jonathan Penner
Original Airdates: 10/24/12 and 10/31/12

Sunday, November 4, 2012

TV Review: Homeland 2x05: "Q&A"

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ML- It's the time of year when I start thinking of "Best Of" lists for the past 12 months. In terms of TV, I've been keeping track of my favorite shows since 2008, inducting the best I watched that year (either live, DVD or Netflix/Hulu) into a "Hall of Fame" which now consists of Six Feet Under, Survivor, Lost, Friday Night Lights and Community.

This year, the drama side has three clear frontrunners, and one of which is Homeland. Season 2 has been a whirlwind ride and is only half over, and perhaps by the finale it will be a runaway choice for HoF placement. While watching this week's episode, however, I spent a lot of time weighing it against the current top pick, Mad Men.

Mad Men aired an episode of its stellar fifth season called "At the Codfish Ball", in which several characters met for an awards banquet and faced differing forms of disillusionment and moral corruption.  Towards the end of the episode, there was a beautiful shot of all the involved characters sitting at the table, digesting their individual discoveries. That image stuck with me, as did the one of the 5 SCDP partners looking out of their new upstairs viewpoint, an endless world of possibilities lying ahead of them. It's instances like this where television stops being mindless entertainment and starts becoming art.

Homeland doesn't take the time to stage such poignant living artwork, but does that make it any less masterful? Obviously, the show is damn good, entertaining and full of uber-talented ladies and gentlemen. It lacks, however, the added flair of planned perfection I'd attribute to Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

Probably the best instance of such directorial depth comes from episode 3, "State of Independence", when Carrie took her pills and silently, submissively succumbed to her suicidal angst -- not before puking them out, of course. It transports the show from being dialogue and blocking and lighting and props to being a work of art. The image of Claire Danes' big bug eyes lying on the bed, waiting to die, is a picture worth a thousand words.

Homeland is a different kind of art. It's a grittier project, devoted to throwing your point of view out of whack and creating layers of doubt into your mind. When Carrie drinks her wine at episode's end, the speculation as to what's going through her head gives us another artistic moment. Is she a woman recklessly declaring her love for a terrorist, or a savvy interrogator just getting the job done? We don't know, and the best part is that the show itself doesn't know, either, or at least isn't ready to tell us yet. The pacing of this show is unlike any other I've seen (though I've heard it described to The Vampire Diaries) and is in itself a high mark for the case of the show as a work of art.

The reason I even brought any of this up was born out of a minor criticism of this fantastic episode. It has nothing to do with Carrie or Brody or newcomer Peter, as I thought every scene set in the interrogation chamber was perfection. (Side note: I read a great article in which a CIA expert fact-checked Homeland at every turn, especially regarding the interrogation. Check it out.)

My issue was with the scene in which the four Brody family members reunite at the end of the episode. Brody, having just gone through an emotional gauntlet; Dana, having just possibly killed someone while riding around with Lil' Veep; Jess, who keeps putting herself out there and accepts Brody's lies in the name of being a good wife (and achieving social status that gives her life some meaning); and Chris, who is STILL ABSOLUTELY USELESS. That's my major gripe, everyone: Chris. Had the writers developed him even one iota this year (or, let's face it, last year) they could have given him a beat that peaked in this scene with the rest of his family, matching the emotional resonance of "At the Codfish Ball"'s over the top, grandiose spectacle.

I guess I just have to come to terms with the fact that Homeland is not Mad Men, and that's not a bad thing. There's no comparing them, just as there's no comparing Breaking Bad or even Downton Abbey, the third front-runner for drama Hall of Fame this year. One man's Animal Practice is another man's Homeland, and there are bits and pieces of art in every show out there. Mad Men is classical music, Homeland is moody jazz with some rock influences.

I suppose we should actually cover Carrie and Brody. In hindsight, it's obviously the story would take them here: Brody will play triple-agent and report to the CIA on Nazir's retaliation plans after the nuclear facility attack. Carrie and Brody are back in each other's lives: his alibi is that they're having an affair. How long until the two start up with getting physical once again? The idea of the CIA operative and the terrorist falling in love is pretty poetic, in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way.

How long can this story be sustained? Let's assume the finale is Brody saving the day and preventing the attack. Does he relocate and get out of government, like Saul said? Does season 3 involve a personal attack on Brody from former Nazir loyalists, forcing Carrie to come to his aid? Or will Brody prevent the attack but pledge a darker loyalty, now out of the government cross-hairs? The show has options, but I'm not sure if they can remain interesting for 5-7 seasons.

By the way, Dana and her storyline are dumb, but hopefully they'll evolve into something more interesting. She now has some leverage against the VP, something Brody may be able to take advantage of, too. Just please, writers, give Chris a purpose, or kill him and send the family into a funk. Just don't keep him on the payroll in his current state of being. Do that, Homeland may be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Episode Grade: A
Episode MVP: Damian Lewis
Original Airdate: 10/28/2012