By Chauncey Telese
Hello everyone, hope all is well. I’m sorry about the lack of Super Bowl preview but I stared at the screen trying to write about the game and I realized two things: 1) I couldn’t care less about the Super Bowl (I mean seriously, who did outside the east coast?), and 2) I had to work during it so why write about something I couldn’t see.
It’s all good though from what I saw on “SportsCenter” it looked like an okay game and the commercials were meh, and as far as halftime, let’s just say that it seems that we care more about a split second middle finger then we do constant ads for erectile dysfunction, beer, and Go Daddy, c’mon America be consistent. Not that any of that bothers me it’s just that it almost seems like we need to get worked up about something every year in order to keep the blood flowing or because we’re bored.
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Aside from the Super Bowl, this has been a busy year in the world, Rick Santorum is now the front runner again because we briefly forgot that, for a guy who is so against the government forcing its beliefs on the people, he certainly has a lot of beliefs he wants the government to force on people. Listening to Rick speak is like watching an episode of “Mad Men,” to be honest because I thought we were in 2012 and yet we’re arguing about whether men can focus on military objectives if women are serving on the front lines with them. C’mon America!
Zooey Deschanel nailed her first SNL hosting gig and that episode gave us Jean Dujarin demonstrating his dancing skills, Bill Hader killing it as Clint Eastwood, and the ultimate segment of “Get in the Cage.” Maya Rudolph should do a great job Saturday despite the fact, due to the recent death of Whitney Houston, she can’t reprise the character.
The Grammys were borderline relevant for the first time in ages and while it was nice for Adele to get six awards that’s not what I took away from the show. I think that Foo Fighters-Deadmau5 duet was strange, Jennifer Hudson really delivered on the Whitney tribute, and people should stop acting surprised that Nikki Minaj’s exorcism set got such a huge reaction, it’s what she wanted. The only unfortunate part about the outrage after that was the fact that Bobby Jindal didn’t come out and critique her rendition of an exorcism as being inaccurate (and he should know).
Last Tuesday was my 23rd birthday and as part of my annual “treat yo self” present, I attended the Clippers-Nuggets game. As a Lakers fan, my visit to Lob City was a disappointment. While it was awesome to see my namesake Chauncey Billups play before being out for the year (on my actual birthday none the less), the Clippers people clearly are bandwagoners for the most part and before you guys think I’m just being a hater, I stayed through the entire game despite the place clearing out when the Clippers were down by 20 with eight minutes to go. They sat Blake (who is an absolute beast in person) and Paul (who is a maestro on the court) with six to go and let the Nuggets’ bench crush them. As presently constituted, the Clips can’t go that far even with Kenyon Martin because they still have no bench, Vinny is a mediocre coach and Blake is a terrible free throw shooter.
In order to be fair to my Clipper friends, the Lakers are a disaster as well. Kobe is the only guy who shows up every night and without a few trade deadline moves they are doomed to die in the first round if they make the playoffs at all. They helped escalate Linsanity (to be fair, I like the kid and think he could be Nash 2.0 someday) and they can barely beat Toronto. Okay, now that we’ve covered the world in a sense (by the way shout out to the state of Washington for moving in the right direction and to the state of California for also doing the right thing) let’s get to clearing out the DVR. As always, our journey will take us from the south side of Chicago, to Harlan, Kentucky, to Santa Anita. Also, starting next week I may add in Myrtle Beach (because “Eastbound and Down” returns) and I may cover the pilot for “Life is Short.” Let’s start in Chicago.
“Shameless: May I have a Mother”
The last two weeks have been very good outings for the Gallagher clan. Debbie is really being developed quite well this season as a mini adult, Lip and Ian’s feud, while awkwardly set up, so far is compelling, Lip’s pain over losing Karen (and her being pregnant) has allowed Lip to be an even stronger character, Fiona’s ability to hold it all together and her private emotional strife has been handled quite well, and Frank isn’t the centerpiece of the action as much and that’s always a good thing.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in this latest Gallagher outing. Frank’s mother returns and the show makes us spend almost the whole hour with two Franks essentially and that reminds us how problematic a character he is. We also have the official return of Steve and at first I thought that would be a good thing, but then I realized that Fiona doesn’t need Steve and he isn’t a good enough character to really have on the show anymore. He was needed last season in order to be the new guy introducing us to this world, but now he just seems excessive and out of place. Before I get to the complaining, I’d like to talk about the good things this episode did in its midseason episode.
As I mentioned, the Ian-Lip feud almost came out of nowhere because Lip gets the recommendation to West Point that Ian wanted (and Lip didn’t) and in his anger Ian throws salt on Lip’s Karen wound. It felt like that story is missing a piece to it but I did like the scene where Fiona told Lip to fix it because she needs them in order to make the family run, and Lip going to the Kash and Grab to get a rise out of Ian showed a lot of the internal conflict. I’m not sure where it goes but it does have a lot of potential to be the kind of emotional story the show does well. The other thing I liked was the relationship between Ethel, Veronica, and Kevin. Kevin and Veronica have done a good job trying to raise Ethel and bring her into the real world. Kevin set her up with Malik and tried to get her to be a kid. That backfired on him though, when last week Ethel’s 70-year-old husband was killed and she contemplates leaving with her sister wives to find another husband. The scene where Ethel thanks Kevin for everything he has done for her was done really well and having Malik dig up Kevin’s weed so they could run away together worked for me and had real emotional stakes to it.
Now for what didn’t work. Frank Gallagher is a character that works in small doses. I’ve written this several times but never was it more apparent then when his mother returned from prison. The two go on a road trip so she can retrieve money from one of her former meth lab chemists (and now prominent plastic surgeon). She doesn’t get what she wants and plans to kidnap his kids, only for Frank to get some of the money yet his mom still isn’t happy. Frank’s mom is worse then Frank and the writers tried to show us how Frank got to be the way he is and how he isn’t all that bad. The only problem is he isn’t that much different then her and it’s never consistent when they try to humanize him. The only saving grace is the moment Fiona and Frank share on the steps and a reminder that, while the family hates Frank, they at least appreciate the fact that he’s been there.
Karen’s wedding also didn’t quite work for me except when Sheila went off on Frank’s mom (great work by Joan Cusak, by the way). Lip showing up at the wedding was a nice moment but the overall scene felt awkward and the part where he tells Karen that she should get rid of her baby was a nice dagger scene but it still left me felt cold. Finally, the big problem with this episode (and possibly the season) is Steve. Steve returned out of nowhere and he is now married to a Brazilian drug lord’s daughter so she can leave the country (a plot that even by “Shameless” standards is outlandish). Fiona is still drawn to him and they hook up while on a double date (again even for “Shameless” its far-fetched) and Fiona gets reasonably mad when Debbie tells her Steve’s real name and how he’s wealthy but it feels like it shouldn’t matter at this point. Lastly, Sheila not only had a strong comedic scene but she finally grew a spine and kicked Frank because he finally admitted he was after her money and now Frank’s living in the bus with Carl.
Overall, this was an episode that tried to do too much and ultimately failed. I think the season is still good and has a lot of promise to finish strong but at the midpoint, it’s clear that they need to rein in Frank and focus on Fiona and the kids because that’s where the show is at its strongest.
Moving on from the south side of Chicago, let’s go to Harlan, Kentucky for a double dose of Marshall Raylan Givens.
“Justified: The Devil I Know”
At this point it seems to me that “Justified” has reached a point, the rare point in TV, where the show is firing on all cylinders and I have complete trust in everything they do. Graham Yost and company have done an amazing job at making sure all of the characters (even Rachel and Tim) have strong moments and the villains are compelling enough not to need to interact with Raylan in order to thrive, and the writing is so fluid that I often watch episodes over and over again just to get all of the one-liners and exposition that they seamlessly weave in. If you’re waiting for the “but” at this moment, I don’t have one, because this show has leapfrogged a plethora of shows to be the third best show on TV (its still not “Mad Men” or “Breaking Bad”). This season has done a great job of balancing the Dixie Mafia Oxy take over, Boyd Crowder trying to become the alpha criminal in Harlan, and introducing Noble’s Holler.
In this episode, the plot revolves around Dickie and Dewey who are busted out of prison by a guard who wants a piece of the Bennett fortune. This would seem simple enough except that the fortune, according to Dickie, is in care of Limehouse in Noble’s Holler which we learn from Raylan is where runaway slaves lived and where abused women would flee because their white husbands wouldn’t dare venture into. The only person Raylan knows that went there was Arlo after a fight with his wife and Raylan had to drag him back to Harlan. This explains how Ava was able to speak to Limehouse in the previous episode and why he knew her.
This week we also learned a bit about Rachel who Raylan uses as liaison of sorts because of her ethnicity which Raylan reminds her is only fair considering he had to be the hillbilly whisperer last season. Rachel explains to Limehouse that she grew up in Tennessee and worked hard to graduate from Ole Miss. She also has an awesome moment when running the check point leaving Noble’s Holler and her standing up to the guys trying to drive their truck of “manure” out of the Holler. When the show uses her, they use her well and because of so much other stuff going on she rarely gets to shine, so I’m glad they did so this week.
Other people have compared this episode to having the criminal ineptitude of “Fargo” and that makes sense as the prison guard is in way over his head in having to deal with Dickie and Dewey and he gets his comeuppance when Raylan runs him over with his car (in a clever nod to “Pulp Fiction”) twice and calmly telling the guy he can live without a spleen. The scheme ultimately falls apart when Dickie leads the guard’s hired goons to the old Bennett store where the money lies and after Limehouse saves his life, it’s revealed that Mags spent all but $46,000 in order to acquire all the land in the Black Pike deal last season.
In a fit of rage, Dickie gives Limehouse all of the money and is left with nothing and lets Raylan take him back to prison. Meanwhile, poor Dickie is held captive by the prison doctor who plans to harvest his organs (these are really hard times for Dewey Crowe) and that plot carries over to next season. Neal McDonough’s Quarles is sparsely used this week but he is effective (loved the “amen” speech) and he recruits Devil to turn on Boyd and work for him. Devil goes to Johnny and tries to get him to cooperate and it might have worked two weeks sooner before Boyd got Johnny his bar back but now Devil is in way over his head. Boyd reminds Devil that he should’ve known that he always finds a way to come out on top and Devil is killed.
The episode is ultimately light on overall season plot but hammers in the themes that post Mags loyalty and family ties mean virtually nothing anymore and an alliance exists on a moment-to-moment basis. Still, this episode was paced really well and included all of the dark comedy that elevates the show to levels that few can reach. Moving on to last night’s episode, “Justified” managed to do one of their best stand alone episodes and probably one of their funniest.
“Justified: In the Mud”
Last week we left off with Dewey Crowe being held captive by Lance who planned on harvesting Dewey’s organs. This week Dewey wakes up in a bath tub with incision marks indicating that he had in fact lost those kidneys. Lance tells Dewey that if he wants his kidneys back he’ll have to raise twenty thousand dollars in four hours or else he’ll die. Any of my readers in the medical profession would note that this sounds implausible and it is except because you can’t conceivably run around without kidneys. You know that, I know that, but Dewey, well Dewey is essentially the Ralph Wiggum of Harlan, Kentucky. Dewey was the centerpiece of the episode and it was hilarious watching him rob different places in desperation.
He goes to an appliance store and learns that they only have $200 and change because everyone pays in credit card (best line of that exchange “Why don’t you steal some merchandise and sell it on eBay”). Then he goes to a strip club (at 10 a.m., which is not exactly prime time) and assumes he can get $3,000 because he once heard a stripper made that much. They remind him that its 10 a.m. and leading to my second favorite line of the night (“that makes sense you’re a 6 and a half if I’m being generous”). After knocking over a Fluff-n-Fold, Dewey gets held up at a liquor store by a shotgun-toting owner who got tired of Dewey’s blasphemy (and all the poor kid wanted was directions).
Raylan and Rachel have been trailing Dewey the whole time trying to figure out why Dewey was being dimmer then normal (and I love at Rachel’s annoyance at Raylan’s failed Lawrence Nightingale joke) and he pieces it together after talking to the prison guard he ran over last week. Raylan visits the liquor store and tries to calm Dewey who thinks that these are really the end times for Dewey Crowe leading to the episode’s funniest moment where Raylan asks Dewey if he can urinate. Dewey does and gleefully asks “You mean I had four kidneys?” and he’s taken back to jail.
Now Raylan pieces together that the nurse who had informed him of the medical logic involving the kidneys is working with Lance and when he tries to question her, Lance knocks Raylan out and tries to harvest his organs. In a nice case of Chekhov’s gun, the nurse shoots Lance who falls into the bathtub on top of an unconscious Raylan, who wakes up and shoots her through Lance (a little absurd but its addressed when she asks “I can’t believe you shot me” and Raylan replying “I can’t believe it either”). He’s shaken as this is the first time he’s shot a woman and that leads him to go home and have Winona leave him a possible good-bye note.
Earlier in the episode she says that she can’t love anyone else but him yet she also hates that he comes home at two every morning and risks his life every day and may not be around to raise their kid. Even though this wasn’t technically the Valentine’s Day episode, it did have a nice romantic moment between Ava and Boyd where she reminds him that they both have identical bullet wounds near their hearts and that they share a special bond.
This leads to a great scene where Quarles goes to meet with Boyd and Quarles thinks Boyd is as dumb as Devil was. Boyd is able to identify an obscure Thomas Jefferson quote and Quarles is taken aback. Boyd then reminds him what happens to carpetbaggers that try to screw over Southerners. This scene was just awesome and an excellent display of quiet intensity from the two of them. It leads me to believe that this will be a major source of conflict and one I’m exciting for.
Two other neat things that came up are the fact that Limehouse lied about how much of Mags’s money is left and I’m curious to see how he joins the fray later on. Also, the little moment where Arlo and Boyd bury Devil and Arlo tries to lift Devil’s wallet much to the disgust of Boyd. I loved this episode and as always I can’t wait to see what happens next week.
Before we move on to Santa Anita, I must say that Fox’s Valentine’s Day line up was amazing last night. “Glee” was better then it should’ve been (loved Goldblum), “New Girl” was at its best, and “Raising Hope” knocked it out of the park. Okay, now on to “Luck”, a show that I find confusing yet strangely compelling.
“Luck: Episode Three”
Three episodes in, I still have virtually no clue what’s going on. I know that Ace was busted for having cocaine in his office (which was planted) and he wants to buy Santa Anita and implement slot machines (at least I think so). Escalante is reluctant to sell any of his horses because he wants to keep all of the gambling wins to himself and apparently has a friends with benefits deal with Jill Hennessey (I forget her name on the show and didn’t want to just call her the vet).
The degenerate gamblers have bought a horse (despite the fact that Jerry spends most of his time at the Hustler casino playing poker), and Walter wants Rosie to become an actual jockey instead of an exercise girl. The show hasn’t quite clicked yet plot wise (though as I said, episode four allegedly changes that) but that’s actually okay because I’m still fascinated. I love the degenerate gamblers and think that they are the heart of the show. I don’t know why they really want a horse but I guess it’s because they want to bet on something that’s theirs?
I think that the universe that David Milch created is fascinating and really made me realize how dumb California’s gambling laws are. Why is it that Commerce and Hustler can have poker houses but no slot machines? Why can’t Santa Anita have slots either? Its perplexing and makes me wonder why they tip toe around gambling at all when it should be an either you have it or you don’t type deal.
I know this recap is light on episode-specific stuff (best line of episode three was when Ronnie broke his collar bone and stated “I break my collarbone more then I get laid”) but there isn’t much plot to speculate on outside of Ace’s junior accountant and even then I’m not sure yet. I’m sure after Sunday I’ll have more to talk about but these episodes have been all exposition so far and none of it really matters yet.
Okay, thank you for reading and stay tuned as we cover the same shows next week and I’ll also have my coverage of the “Breaking Bad” panel at the TV Academy.