By Chauncey Telese
Hello everyone, I hope all is well. As we approach the end of the first month of the final year in the Mayan Calendar, the world is already starting to show signs of bizarre activity indicating that we are, in fact, heading to our doom.
Newt Gingrich, once considered a write off candidate due to unscrupulous personal issues, a huge bill at Tiffany’s, and a plethora of borderline racist, misogynist, and borderline odd statements (like by 2020 we’ll have a colony on the moon and make it a state which I actually support if April Ludgate can be the UN ambassador). Now he’s the likely Republican nominee because Mitt Romney took too long to release his tax returns (which revealed the shocking truth that he is in fact super wealthy and has a great accountant).
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That’s right, Newt is the possible front runner despite leaving one wife with cancer, then marrying the mistress, leaving her for his current wife after she came down with MS and refused his request for an open marriage, because America would rather have that guy then a wealthy guy with no discernable position on anything. Ladies and Gentlemen your 2012 political arena! At least we no longer care about anything Santorum says because people remembered why we didn’t like him to begin with.
Sports are entering the apocalypse as well. We have a rematch of Super Bowl 42 which isn’t so shocking as how we got there. The Giants get by a Falcons team who only scored two points (ok Eli scored it for them, but still), then caught the Packers at an unusually good time and then Kyle Williams muffed two punts and Alex Smith reverted back to his old self. The Pats who until Sunday haven’t beat a team with a winning record all year, made the Super Bowl because of a combination of Brady going into beast mode, Tebow sacrificing his first ring for all of our sins, and the Ravens collapsing with Lee Evans dropping a sure pass and Cundiff missing a kick in spectacular fashion. I’ll have a Super Bowl column next week so I won’t predict the game and rant about the annoying storylines I don’t want to hear. All I’ll say is that now I’m prepared for anything which means I can’t wait to see the Memphis Grizzlies or the Indiana Pacers winning the NBA finals (I’m kidding but then again it still wouldn’t surprise me).
The Oscar nominations came out and while a lot of nominations were what we expected, some of them were total head scratchers. I realize that there are head scratchers every year but seriously “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” gets in, despite making it on absolutely no year end lists and Max von Syndow gets in for Supporting Actor over Albert Brooks and Patton Oswalt? Also, “The Adventures of Tin Tin” gets snubbed in favor of two foreign animated movies no one has heard of and “50/50” loses out on a Best Original Screenplay nod. Yikes! Way to go. Academy. I’ll have my Oscar predictions as the show comes closer.
Alright, now that the early signs of the apocalypse are out of the way, today we have a loaded slate. Our first bit of business takes us to the South side of Chicago with our favorite no collar family.
“Shameless: I’ll Light a Candle for You”
The last two weeks have been a nice slice of life in the world of the Gallagher clan and aside from a few good moments, i.e. Veronica taking the old people to the park, Fiona and Carl having a brother/sister moment, Lip’s anger at Karen dating the guy from her recovery group, and Sheila taking more and more steps in her quest to reach the Alibi Room, the show hasn’t had its forward momentum yet. This episode though, we finally get some progress as well as insight into how the Gallaghers see morality, specifically how Fiona and Frank deal with morally comprehensible situations. Fiona has one rule when it comes to hooking up with guys and that is that she doesn’t do anything with married guys. It’s a simple rule that is easily to abide by except when she’s faced with an old high school crush that she reconnected with on Facebook. They meet for coffee and she finds out that he had a thing for her too and the seeds are planted. Against her better judgment, she continues to text him and they eventually break the BYU honor code in the back seat of his car. Karma intervenes to a degree, as Fiona’s fantasy that this guy would be a dynamo is shattered as the guy is a bigger disappointment then the 2011-2012 Green Bay Packers. Fiona is also faced with another moral dilemma as she finds a fancy purse on the L Train. She picks it up and finds five hundred dollars and takes the family out to a fancy meal at Sizzler and buys groceries. She then returns the purse to its owner only to discover that the owner is similar to her. A guilty Fiona scrambles to raise the money she stole and pay her back, but when she tries to deliver the money the girl ends up being a nasty person and Fiona feels vindicated for having stolen the purse. After all, according to Frank, the Gallagher credo is “Finders keepers, losers weepers”.
Frank deals with his own moral dilemma as his attempts to shack up with “But her face” Dottie in order to marry her and steal her pension before her heart ailment kills her. Dottie knows Frank quite well and doesn’t take his attempts at flattery seriously (though in Frank’s defense the chores he puts up with are awful) and it isn’t until Frank proposes marriage and promises to light a candle for her and even get a drink named after her that she caves. She knows Frank is only after her pension but she doesn’t care because he was actually there for her and offered her companionship. In order to propose to her, Frank also stole the ring the man that has been seeing Karen was going to use. Frank manages to get even sleazier when the hospital calls to offer a Dottie a recently available heart and Frank tells the hospital she doesn’t need it any more. This leads to a classic Frank Gallagher drunken rant about the organ donor program and how it is immoral in and of itself. He returns to Dottie’s and she is aware that she doesn’t have a heart coming and asks Frank to do something he isn’t comfortable with. She wants him to get it on with her so that her blood pressure will rise and cause her to die. Frank objects but she offers him two grand, a flat screen, and the idea that if he really cared about her he’d allow her to die. As can be expected Frank agrees to do it (though she makes him leave the lights on) and she dies. It turns out Frank does have some semblance of a conscience as he goes to the Alibi Room dressed in the tux he was going to marry Dottie in and gets drunk, which is what he always does but this time it’s in order deal with his guilt. He makes good on naming a drink for her and after he is comforted by Debbie who all episode has been dealing with her first encounter with death (more on that later). Frank leaves the bar and goes to the church and does in fact light a candle and says a prayer, though he steals the donation box on his way out.
I enjoyed both of these plot lines as it managed to humanize the Fiona and Frank and connect them in a way that Fiona would hate to admit. Meanwhile, Debbie struggles to deal with death after the elderly man she cared for last season died. I loved Debbie listing every euphemism about death and is shocked when Ethel says she can’t wait to die so she can be closer to god (I think its great they kept Ethel around because her Amish lifestyle is a great contrast to the Gallagher’s). Eventually, Veronica is able to get to the root of Debbie’s fear, which is that she’ll be alone due to Fiona being older and women tending to live longer. Also, Lip is dealing with the fact that Karen is going to get married and Ian tries to get Jody a job as a security guard at the Kash and Grab. So far I’m encouraged that the season is going to keep getting better especially with Fiona starting to reach out to Steve.
Moving on, another sign of the Mayan calendar happened last Sunday when “Californication” managed to air an episode that is worth writing about.
“Californication: Boys and Girls”
When we last spoke, I wrote about how I enjoy the misadventures of Hank Moody, the show itself never has any forward momentum and Hank never really grows as a person. Last Sunday though, that temporarily wasn’t the case. “Californication” included three stories that all had a theme about emotional growth and told them in a way that was both hilarious and heartfelt, something the show hasn’t been able to do for some time. The first story was about Hank’s budding friendship with Samurai Apocalypse (RZA is growing on me this season) and Hank’s budding clandestine relationship with Kali. Hank knows full well that being around Kali is a bad idea but they are drawn to each other. Sam asks Hank to take Kali out so he can read Hank’s script for “Santa Monica Cop” and Hank reluctantly agrees. They have great chemistry at the bar and even manufacture a scuffle where Kali tries to get Hank in trouble with some hipster. Once they leave the bar they have a high school like meeting in Hank’s convertible in the Hollywood Hills. With their IN-N-OUT bags off to the side they have a first date of sorts and it is actually earned when they kiss.
Meanwhile, Runkel goes through his own form of self-discovery as his addiction to porn (which is hilarious) is causing him problems. While taking care of his son for the weekend, he has a pleasant evening with Marci’s new nanny and in the midst of some serious conversation, Runkel makes a move on the nanny (I wish I could repeat what he says in the moment but it’s still a family station). She shuts him down and Runkel has a breakthrough and realizes that his obsession with porn has caused him to regress emotionally and he must reconnect with his relationships with women on a level that is devoid of sex.
Lastly, the relationship between Hank and Becca, which the show always goes to in order to ground Hank, was done again to full effect. Becca is broken up about how her boyfriend broke her heart. Hank is prepared to go to back to New York but before he does, he talks to Becca about what happened. She tells him that she finally gets why her mom put up with Hank for so long. She hates her boyfriend but she also still loves him and Hank puts off his flight so he can be with Becca and help her get over her pain. This is a rare moment of selflessness on Hank’s part, but if anyone can do it, it’s Becca.
These moments are coupled by the fact, that there was so much humor laced in. I loved Stu and Runkel talking about the vintage porn Runkel is caught watching, Sam holding a gun to his head and accusing him of sleeping with Kali before laughing and in a Tracy Jordan like fashion proclaims “I’m a character”, and when Hank confronts Becca’s boyfriend. I doubt there will be episodes like this going forward, but who knows, maybe Tom Kapinos and company will finally allow the show to live up to its potential. Only time will tell.
Now we venture into Harlan, Kentucky and the backwoods adventures of US Marshall Raylan Givens.
“Justified: The Gunslinger”
I was worried that after season two’s mastery that Graham Yost and company could top their “Winter’s Bone”/ “Godfather” like yarn about the Bennett family especially when the only Bennett left was Dickie. My worries were quelled when I saw that they decided to load up on obstacles for Raylan to overcome with several new villains (this was tried during season five of “Dexter” but there not as good as the “Justified” crew). The premiere starts out with Raylan in the hospital after taking fire in the finale, and Winona decides not to leave him after all. Raylan was supposed to go work at Glynco and raise his and Winona’s child but because of his wounds, he’s not equipped to train anyone. Raylan struggles to hit the broad side of a barn and is chained to a desk for the foreseeable future. His first day back is eventful as he’s visited by Boyd Crowder, who is upset Raylan never gave Dickie Bennett back to him so that Boyd can punish him for shooting Ava. Raylan refuse to hand Dickie over (not that he could since Dickie’s in jail) so Boyd beats up Raylan and gets thrown in jail.
I loved this scene because it the elements that separate “Justified” from other shows, as the banter between Olyphant and Goggins has gotten so sharp as the years have gone on. Even when Raylan gets leveled on the ground they still joke about how Boyd should’ve worn his black suit. The banter between Raylan and Winnona has also gotten stronger and listening to them joke about what to name the baby and how they can live in the motel were great moments. The action starts in Frankfurt with a hit man (played by Neil McDonough) who comes from Detroit and may be affiliated with the Dixie Mafia that was mentioned last season. The hit man and Arnett meet in Arnett’s office but they are not alone they are joined by Fletcher “Ice Pick” Nix (played by “Dexter’s” Desmond Harrington). The hit man (his character hasn’t been named yet) is there to collect money Arnett owes him, but of course Arnett doesn’t have it.
We get to see Fletcher and how he has his nickname when he breaks into someone’s house by holding a pizza guy hostage. Fletcher gives his victim a challenge: if he can grab the gun before Fletcher can, he can shoot him. The pizza guy counts down from ten and before the man can grab it, Fletcher stabs his hand with the pick, grabs the gun, kills him, and coldly declares “I win”. Raylan is upset about his desk duty so he ignores Tim’s request to look over Fletcher’s file but agrees to visit Winn Duffy which worries Raylan because last time he met with Duffy, he threatened him by telling him that their next conversation wouldn’t be a conversation. Tim tells Raylan to think of it as a different conversation and they go see Duffy. Duffy lies about the robbery and because Raylan was too lazy to look at the file, comes face to face with Fletcher and doesn’t even know it. With Boyd in jail, Ava, Arlo, and one of Boyd’s men negotiate a deal for the sale of Mags Bennett’s weed. The only problem is that their buyer discovers that, because they stored it in a dry environment, it’s worthless. Ava keeps the situation from becoming chaotic but the men don’t take her seriously. Even when Boyd gives her orders to burn it, they refuse and Ava’s forced to smack down Boyd’s aid with a frying pan. When Arlo tells her she didn’t need to do that she quickly replies “If I didn’t have to I wouldn’t have”. Classic Ava.
Raylan kicks himself for missing out on Fletcher but he soon makes up for it by having a meeting with Arnett’s assistant and she tells him where the money drop would take place. This seems fishy to Raylan, as the information came easy and he was right as it was all a set up in order to get Raylan. Art sets up a sting while Raylan goes back to his motel where Fletcher is waiting for him. Fletcher makes Winona count to ten and, unlike his previous efforts, Fletcher loses because Raylan grabs the tablecloth, moving the gun and shooting Fletcher. The episode ends with the hit man killing Arnett and his assistant and Dickie being given the rundown of prison life by Dewey Crowe. They spot Boyd walking down the hall and both get scared. The following week’s episode would reunite Raylan with one of his Marshall counterparts and Boyd’s plot to get Dickie isn’t as easy as he thinks.
“Justified: Cut Ties”
Last week was a table setting episode (as most season premieres are) and this week, as is the tradition with “Justified,” this would be a ‘case of the week’ episode with fragments of the overall season developed. This isn’t a complaint as it was in the first season because these case of the week episodes happen to be really good (as with last season’s “Apricot”) because they give other members of the Marshall’s office a chance to shine. This week we learn a bit about Art’s younger days and how he was able to put up with Raylan all these years. The beginning of the episode shows Art meeting with a fellow Marshall and when asked about Raylan, Art says that Raylan is his penance for what the trouble he gave his supervisor. Said visiting Marshall is in charge of Witness Protection in several states and one of his protectees kills him and makes money for selling the WITSEC addresses to the people they were being protected from. Thus our case of the week, and one that reunites Raylan with Marshall Goodall who is a bizarre. Karen Sisco (another Elmore Leonard character who was played by JLO in “Out of Sight” and tonight’s guest star Carla Gugino on the short lived ABC show “Karen Sisco”) and a flame of Raylan’s. They join forces to find one of the witsec members and find out who set up the Marshall to be killed. Art meanwhile, finds the guy by accident and proceeds to go all Jack Bauer on him. Art laments that back in his day they used to use the phone book but nobody has a phone book anymore.
Rachel goes over to the next house on the witsec list and is charged with protecting the family until all matters are settled. She ends up having to bust out her rarely used gun fighting skills and take down two hit men looking to murder everyone inside. While all of this is going on, Boyd tries to get closer to Dickie before he is released from prison the next day because Raylan realized that Boyd wasn’t assaulting a Marshall but having a dust up with a friend (or realizing that he wanted to get to Dickie all along). Boyd is thwarted when Dickie is moved into solitary so Boyd gets himself beat up by some African Americans who don’t like the swastika tattoo on his arm and gets to be in the cell next to Dickie. They meet and, instead of killing him, try to ascertain the whereabouts of the Bennett fortune and Dickie tells him that it is in the care of a Ellstin Limehouse (this season’s other big bad played by Mykelti Williamson who is most famous for playing Private Benjamin Buford Blue in “Forest Gump,” that’s right Bubba’s back). Limehouse is very similar to Mags in that they use folksy wisdom in order to administer harsh justice. Limehouse explains to his night watchman that the best way to train a dog is to not hit them when they disobey and that will cause them to remember that instance, and if a dog sees that display of mercy as weakness you have to put it down. Limehouse then threatens to go all Tyler Durden on his night watchman and dunk his hand in lye.
This episode, while not a big on the overall season plot, did a nice job of filling us in on Art’s past and allowing Rachel to be the hero for the first time in awhile. It also set up a possible triangle between Raylan, Goodall, and Winona. Oh, and Art tells Raylan that Arnett’s office is missing carpet and the concrete has been bleached, to which Raylan responds “That’s never good.”
Moving on we go to a pilot that is to air Sunday starring Dustin Hoffman and comes to us from “Deadwood” creator David Milch.
David Milch is one of the three Davids that helped build HBO (the others are Simon and Chase who created “The Wire” and “The Sopranos,” respectively) into the cable giant that it is today. His follow-up “John from Cincinnati” didn’t go over as well as “Deadwood” did and he has been absent from TV from several years but now he’s back with his new drama “Luck.” “Luck” focuses on a plethora of different characters but all revolve around one of Milch’s life’s passions; horse racing. The main character is Chester “Ace” Bernstein played by living legend Dustin Hoffman. The pilot aired as a sneak peek after the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire”. The show airs this Sunday at 9 pm (6pm pacific) and looks to be a show that people will either love or hate.
The show starts with the release of Ace from prison where he spent three years for taking the fall in some sort of gambling bust (they don’t reveal entirely what he did yet) and he is met my his driver Gus (Dennis Farina). Ace gives Gus his horse because legally he can’t own a horse anymore and while Gus’s name is on the forms, everyone at Santa Anita know that Ace is running the show. We first see Santa Anita at dawn with steam rising off the horses as they’re being washed and we see the light in their eyes. The horses are as much a character as the people who own, ride, and train them. One of the first people we meet in the stables is legendary trainer Turo Escalante (played with a curious accent by John Ortiz) who fumes when his new jockey acts cocky before a race (Escalante is a control freak). He calls jockey agent Joey Rathburn (played with stuttering perfection by Richard Kind) and Joey promises to set the guy straight. Also we have Nick Nolte (who got nominated for “Warrior”) as Walter the old horse trainer and because Nolte is playing him, Walter is a drinker (and horse whisperer). Jill Hennessey returns to TV as the track’s vet (name not given yet). Outside of the stables we have a group of degenerate gamblers headed by wheel chair/oxygen tank bound Marcus (Kevin Dunn) he and his cohorts plan to win a multi-million dollar jackpot. This plot will turn off others because of the use of hardcore gambling speak but because I listen to Bill Simmons, Chad Millman, Bill Barnwell, and Cousin Sal, I found a way to figure it out. They have a handicapper in Jerry (Jason Gedrick) who can pick horses like no other (tragically he’s also never really profited from it from what I can tell).
While all of this is going on, we are treated to some of the best racing scenes I’ve ever seen as Michael Mann directs the hell out of the pilot. He captures the grit, beauty, and soul of the track and like the horses, it becomes its own character. The way the dirt flies up or the force at which the horses breathe intensifies the action and we can see what all of the people at the track see and feel what they feel. Anyway, back to the story, the gamblers win their big jackpot but don’t report it until they can figure out how not to lose it for taxes. Tragically, this race also shows what many people find disgusting about horse racing when the horse the cocky jockey rides breaks its leg and has to be put down. This scene may also lose a lot of people because they do not shy away from how brutal this moment is. Mann captures the light going out of its eyes as the euthanasia takes effect on the horse. Our jockey is humbled and we see how this sport can wear on a jockey after awhile with Lonnie (played by a real jockey) who is a drunk and decides to mentor his younger counterpart at the chagrin of Joey.
Like “Deadwood,” this show boasts a plethora of great performances and while it isn’t clear what the show is yet (according to Alan Sepinwall, episode four is where it all comes together) but it is one I’m dying to track (no pun intended) for the foreseeable future. Nick Nolte may be up for an Emmy as his performance is the most distinguished as his pain at the loss of a horse years ago leaves him weary (which is what Nolte plays best). I know the above sounds like a lot to digest and it is, but I highly recommend this show especially considering the state of TV at the moment. Consider “Luck” part of my regular rotation.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as I unveil my Super Bowl preview as well as more “Shameless,” “Justified” and possibly “The Grey”. I say possibly because movies are hard to come by for me these days. Have a great weekend!