Couchtime WIth Jill

Sharp & snarky TV recaps with Jill Mader. (@jillemader on Twitter)

Revenge – Sharpied!

Revenge – Sharpied! Unfortunately, season two of Revenge hasn’t been the tightly written thrill ride that the first season was. I hear some of you are very into Scandal as a soapy replacement, and I might try to check that out eventually. But for now, I’m still sticking with Emily Thorne and her mission of vengeance.

Revenge – Sharpied! There have been a few issues with the plots this season, but my biggest beef is Jack’s storyline. The bar is a drug front now? Who cares? No one. Jack is only interesting because of his relationships with Emily and Amanda. This subplot is too off on its own, completely detached from the reason we all watch the show. I guess the idea of Jack being in prison is a bit of a twist, but

In general, things have gotten too sprawling. The drama of Grayson Global, while attached in some way to Emily’s plan, isn’t particularly interesting.

What saved this episode was the fact that we finally got to see Ems exact some revenge again, with that red Sharpie of hers. A judge who’d been important in her father’s trial, and the mystery surrounding him and his wife was thick enough to keep my interest. This was a classic revenging – I mean, it’s always better when it’s public, right?

This episode wasn’t the best, but it was enough to get me at least a little excited about the show again. What’d y’all think?


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Parenthood – Bald and Beautiful

Parenthood – Bald and Beautiful It’s possible that this week’s episode of Parenthood was perfect. I mean, honestly. It was a heavy episode, but there were smiles too. Warm moments. Tense family issues. Tears. It was everything I love about the show. What a way for the show to come back in 2013 after a stellar first half of the season.

I loved how the episode began, with Julia, Sarah, Kristina and Jasmine out at a bar having fun. They were all pretending to not have a care in the world and getting away from their problems for a while, even though they were all facing issues of varying depth.

Then, Kristina pParenthood – Bald and Beautiful ulled out a few locks of hair. And she went home and boldly, bravely shaved her head. The whole thing was heartbreaking and wonderful. Adam’s reaction was perfect, in that it was flawed. There is no right way to help someone through such a situation, people can just do the best they can. I adored all their interactions in this episode – especially the romantic date Kristina covertly arranged for them. (Any Veronica Mars fans out there? That was Dick Casablancas hitting on her at the bar. He looks good!)

Because we got some laughs out of Kristina’s cancer storyline this week, the heaviness could come from elsewhere – and I’m glad it did. So far, I’m pleased with how the writers have handled the introduction of Victor. It hasn’t been an easy transition, and I think they’re doing a good job of making it feel pretty realistic. Victor’s grades have come along, but he still doesn’t understand why he can’t see his own mother. He probably won’t ever consider Julia his “real” mom. It’s unfortunate that Sydney so often comes across as The Worst on this show, because I think she’s kind of just a normal kid. She was truly horrid to Victor, but I hope viewers don’t discount what kind of transition this would be for her. Her new brother gets all the attention, her mom told her to shut up. Lashing out at Victor seemed like a relatively normal reaction from a little kid who hasn’t really learned empathy yet. I was disappointed with how Julia handled the situation, but it felt real to me. Victor put Sydney in danger, and that brought up emotions and fears. Adopting an older, troubled kid is not easy, and I felt like this episode really helped push that storyline further.

I very much enjoyed Crosby and Jasmine’s storyline this week. Crosby’s relationship with Jasmine’s mother (and her family in general) has always been strained, and that’s been touched on here and there. Jasmine’s mother is moving in with them now, under circumstances that in today’s economy make a lot of sense – she lost her job, is getting buried under debt, and has to rely on her family for help. Crosby is her family now, and it was nice to see him both struggle with the sacrifice and step up to do the right thing. If I ever hear anyone doubt Dax Shepard’s acting skills, I’d like to show them Crosby’s facial reaction to Renee’s heartfelt thanks. I think this is a great development for Crosby and Jasmine, because it can give them an obstacle in their marriage without actually threatening their relationship.

Parenthood – Bald and Beautiful The storyline that has been most difficult to like this season is Sarah’s, even though I do think her decisions have been in keeping with her character. I feel that the thing that has saved this plot is Ray Romano, and his chemistry with Sarah. Sometimes a person can make all the wrong decisions and end up with the right person, and I like the idea that Sarah and Hank are right for each other. I just hope that Ray Romano can stay on the show, because I’m tired of seeing Sarah move from one guy to the next. I want Hank to be it.

I know not all of you watch the previews for the next week’s episode, so I won’t talk about it in detail. But I think it could be an extremely interesting storyline, and one that I think Parenthood, based on Katims’ Friday Night Lights track record, is equipped to do a good job on. There are only four more episodes left in this season (NBC is rushing the show out the door in order to air Smash, which I hate) and I have a feeling they will all be very emotional, excellent episodes that set us up for a fantastic fifth season. If NBC is smart, they’ll deliver one.


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Other Favorites of 2012

best of 2012 In past years I’ve written more “best of” lists at year end, but that can become difficult when ingesting pop culture isn’t a full-time job. I wasn’t sure I’d read enough books that I loved to do a full list, and I listen to almost all the same podcasts I did a year ago. So instead of publishing a slew of posts over the next couple days, I thought I’d just compile a few non-television favorites into one piece. You can find my piece on the best TV I watched in 2012 here.

 

Podcasts

I still heartily recommend “Pop Culture Happy Hour” and “This American Life” from NPR to those who don’t listen to them – those podcasts result in two of the most enjoyable hours of my week on a regular basis. I was recently introduced to “My Brother, My Brother and Me” by a friend and I’m looking forward to checking out more of it in 2013.

Booksbooks

Like many others, I read “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn this year and really, really liked it. It’s a total page-turner, and it was a refreshing change for someone who doesn’t read a lot of mystery novels. I also read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky for the first time this year, and adored it, and I highly recommend rereading “The Great Gatsby” before the film comes out to those who are interested.  One of the most surprising books I read this year was “MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For a New Best Friend” by Rachel Bertsche. It’s a memoir written by a woman who was looking to make friends after settling down in Chicago, and it’s quite funny. I’m not a self-help book person, but reading about someone else just walking up to strangers and asking them to go for coffee helped inspire me to be more proactive when it came to asking acquaintances to get together outside of the party scene. I’m looking forward to digging into Alan Sepinwall’s book “The Revolution was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever” before my vacation is through, as well books by David Rakoff and Mike Birbiglia that I received for Christmas.

music Music

I’m not really great and recommending music, because
a) I readily accept the fact that a lot of what I like is not considered “good” by people who are concerned with being “cool”. Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars were in high rotation this year and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They all produced good, catchy pop songs.
b) When I find something I like, I tend to play it nonstop.

I really played the hell out of The Lumineers. My favorite songs are “Ho Hey”, “Flowers in Your Hair” and “Classy Girl”. I started listening to Alt-J recently. (Check out “Breezeblocks”.) Mt iPod in 2012 also saw a lot of Of Monsters and Men (you’ve probably heard “Little Talks”, but if not, go listen to it), fun., and The Civil Wars. (Also, music from the show Nashville, some of which was written by The Civil Wars.)

Movies

I have a weird relationship with films. I love to go see movies, I read reviews and follow Oscar buzz. But I rarely watch them at home (two whole hours devoted to one thing always feels like too much, even though I can mainline six hours of Breaking Bad if the mood strikes) and I’m very particular about what sort of movie I *feel* like seeing at any given moment. I also have a hard time remembering what films I’ve seen and when – but I’ve managed to come up with an assortment of seven from 2012 that I really enjoyed.

perks The Perks of Being a Wallflower: I read the book in preparation to see this movie, which I was interested in as one of Emma Watson’s first post-Potter films. I loved the book, and this is one of the best film adaptations I’ve ever seen – likely because it was written and directed by the author. The performances are so incredibly strong. I think this cast is a nice look at the next generation of great actors. See it.
The Hunger Games: Another film adaptation, obviously. As a huge fan of the books, a lot was riding on this first movie. I don’t think they got everything right (Hi, Peeta) but they got most of it and that’s more than you can say for a lot of similar movies. Jennifer Lawrence was very good, though I wonder if people who haven’t read the much more detailed, thoughtful books would have the same movie experience.
Looper: Is there anyone better than Joseph Gordon Levitt? I loved him in this movie. It was thrilling and well-written, and cut to the chase – I hate movies set in the future that get too bogged down with logistics. A great example of a really excellent action movie.
Ruby Sparks: This was a quirky little movie I saw in the summer (I unfortunately missed Celeste & Jesse Forever, but I plan on seeing it) that I really enjoyed. Zoe Kazan plays a girl who comes to life after she’s written by a young male author, and I think it’s an interesting commentary on stock characters, romantic comedies, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and, in general, relationships.
pitch Pitch Perfect: The year’s funniest movie, I’d say, save for a couple of unnecessary vomit scenes. (Bodily functions are not my jam, I said the same thing about Bridesmaids.) Anna Kendrick is a delightful little human, and Rebel Wilson steals every scene she’s in. (So do Brittany Snow’s eyes. That girl is impossibly beautiful.)The movie is loads of fun, but also one of the most realistic movies of the genre I’ve ever seen.
Argo: Can we all stop being surprised by Ben Affleck? He’s smart and good at what he does. Let’s stop making him prove it now and just enjoy the show. While there’s no doubt that there are some issues with Argo in terms of historical accuracy and racial prejudice, it’s a well-crafted political thriller. Even though you know the outcome, you are never bored. You arles mis e always on the edge of your seat. That’s a huge accomplishment.
Les Misérables : I saw this movie on Christmas Day (in the nighttime) with my fiancé and his mom, and we all loved it. It’s the very definition of epic – huge sets and landscapes, swelling emotion, a massive, star-studded cast. Anne Hathaway kills it. Hugh Jackman gives the performance of a lifetime. Russell Crowe is more adequate than people are giving him credit for. Amanda Seyfried is a perfect Cosette, and I absolutely adored Samantha Barks as Eponine. Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit were both excellent revolutionaries. It’s so, so good you guys. I want to see it again.

 

 

 


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My Favorite TV Shows (and the biggest disappointments) of 2012

best of 2012 Most major TV sites have long ago posted their top shows of the year posts, but rest assured that mine is a little different. Instead of posting who I think had the best year, I’m going to tell you which shows I really, truly enjoyed this year – whether they were newly airing or not. They’re in no particular order, and it’s purely by chance that I ended up with an even ten. Please head to the comments, and tell me which TV programs you really loved in 2012!

breaking bad s4 Breaking Bad
2012 was the year I finally caught up with y’all and started watching Breaking Bad. And yes, everyone was right – I loved it. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the final half of the fifth and last season this summer.

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
I’ve always been a fan of Jimmy Fallon, but I never watched his show regularly until last year. This year, I started watching it every morning – I DVR it (I think it comes on at, like, 12:30am here) and put it on while I get ready in the morning. It’s the best way to wake up – literally laughing out loud.

SM-HAPPY-ENDINGS-1 Happy Endings
March 29, 2011 – that’s when I wrote my first blog for Happy Endings. My friend Ben introduced me to the show, and I’ll be eternally grateful. It’s so fun, wacky, energetic and quotable. You can watch each episode several times and find new things to laugh about. One of the best TV discoveries of 2012.

Parks and Recreation
This comedy had another great year, and has a permanent place at the top of my year-end list. It’s so hard to choose, but I think my favorite episode might have been “Bowling for Votes”. Also, there was this.

Parenthood
parenthood
This is another staple of my “Favorites” lists, but Parenthood had a standout first half of the season this fall. It’s a warm, painfully accurate, funny family drama. If you don’t watch, it can seem like a lot to take on. I suggest starting with the Thanksgiving episode in season 2, if you’re feeling like there’s too much to catch up on.

Survivor: Philippines
I always enjoy watching Survivor, but most diehard fans will agree that some seasons are stronger than others. This fall, Survivor delivered a classic. It was exciting from beginning to end, with likable characters, twists and turns, villains and heroic underdogs. Basically just a whole lot of fun.

hbo girls Girls
HBO’s Girls debuted in April of this year amid a lot of buzz. There was some weird backlash that was at times sexist, at times just needlessly snarky, but I think Lena Dunham has really created something special here. The writing and performances are wonderful. The characters don’t represent everyone – in fact, they are beautifully specific. That’s what makes the show great. The titular girls and the people in their lives are layered, they are much more flawed than we’re used to seeing on TV, and they can be hilarious. Months later, I still find myself referencing scenes from the first season and I’ve already watched the trailer for season two several times.

Mad Men
Season five of Mad Men was another success for the series. The evolution of Don’s marriage to Megan was fascinating to watch, and watching Peggy spread her wings and leave the agency was just as satisfying as I thought it would be. It was a breakout season for Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper, and a standout season for John Slattery as Roger Sterling.

sherlock Sherlock
Series 2 of BBC’s Sherlock aired in 2012, but the show was entirely new to me this year thanks to a new Netflix subscription. It’s an incredibly fun show to watch and dissect. Each series is only three episodes, but as each installment is 90minutes, they feel more like movies. I can’t believe we have so long to wait for the third series.

Downton Abbey
More British TV. It seems that I never blogged about the first two seasons, but I watched them both in less than a week. I also watched the third season as it aired in Britain, and recently reviewed the 2012 Christmas special. Obviously, do not read if you’ve yet to see it, but it was excellent viewing. I loved the third season and looked forward to watching it with a cup of tea every Sunday night. I’ll repost my reviews, and likely re-watch all the episodes, when they air on PBS in the new year.

Biggest Disappointments of 2012

No blog post reflecting on the past year would be complete without at least some criticisms. I try to watch shows that I’m pretty sure I will like, but I’m not always right. Three stand out in my mind as being major disappointments this year.

Up All Night
Premiering in the fall of 2011, I had high hopes for this NBC sitcom. But it never really found its footing, and partway through the season season this year I had to cut it from my schedule. The network is trying to revive the show by switching it to a multi-cam format, but I don’t think that will do the trick.

Smash
I was excited about Smash premiering back in February, but it was almost immediately a disappointment. Bad acting, ridiculous B-plots and unlikable characters made it a chore to watch. It’s returning for a second season with Jennifer Hudson, but even she won’t be able to bring me back on board.

TheNewsroom The Newsroom
This one was polarizing, and even I was never sure if I hated it or tolerated it. It sounds like it can be great. Sometimes it is great. But it’s also obnoxiously self-important, disguises 20/20 hindsight for unique intelligence, and it hates women.

And because I know you’re going to ask…yes, I have begun to watch Homeland. I couldn’t include it on this list because I haven’t decided whether I like the show yet, but look for posts on it in 2013.


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Downton Abbey – 2012 Christmas Special

Well, hello! I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, whatever you celebrated. For me, it was a whirlwind Christmas – with three families to visit (my dad’s, my mom’s, and my fiance’s – I am one away from a Vince Vaughn holiday movie) I was pretty busy, but managed to do everything I wanted. And that includes a late-night Boxing Day viewing of the latest Downton Abbey installment.

This is a review of the Downton Abbey Christmas special that aired in Britain on December 25, 2012. The special has yet to air on PBS as it must follow season three, so I urge you NOT to read this if you have not seen it. Major “spoilers” lie ahead. (i.e., a review of the program.)

A quick Googling suggests that the viewing public was critical of the special, but I really enjoyed it. Did some people really find it boring? It was an hour and a half, and I loved every minute of it.

Now, let’s not bury the lede. The special ended with Matthew Crawley, having just met his newborn son for the first time, getting into an automobile accident on his way back to Downton. When I saw Matthew in the car, I instantly knew what would happen, thanks to reports months ago that the actor Dan Stevens wanted to leave the show. (I think that’s a truly moronic choice, but to each his own.) What else could have been done? Recasting wouldn’t have worked, and sending Matthew abroad forever and always would have been too forced. It’s unfortunate that this had to happen this season, when we just lost Sybil, because it makes the show feel a bit melodramatic. However, I’m OK with it. It was much more common to die young back then. War, disease, childbirth, roads that were built for wagons rather than cars – these all feel like realistic causes of death, even if it is a bit too much to lose two major characters in one season.

I suppose the reason people found the special boring was that, otherwise, it was rather blissful and free of drama. Everyone seemed quite happy. I enjoyed the two storylines, though. Many of the servants were still at Downton, enjoying some free time while the family visited Scotland. Mrs. Patmore had a new suitor, Thomas’s act of selfless bravery helped mend fences between him and Jimmy, and Branson remained alone at the house, struggling to figure out where exactly he fit in. (By the way, how cute is Baby Sybil?)

In Scotland, Lord Grantham finally realized how lucky he was to have Matthew when Shrimpy revealed that he was losing his estate. The modernization had worked, which is what will make Matthew’s death so devastating for the family. For a moment, all was perfect – the estate was surviving and Mary had produced an heir for Matthew. Now, that heir will be very young when he takes over, and without Matthew’s knowledge of running the estate, Downton could again be in trouble.

The character of Rose was introduced a bit hastily in the last episode, but I did like her in this special. Yes, she feels like a bit of a replacement for Sybil. But her disposition is different. Sybil was sweet and kind, and challenged the rules of society through women’s suffrage and marrying below her class. Rose is more fun-loving and wild, and challenges the norms of her society in a different way.

Edith seems to have made up her mind about her married editor, and I look forward to seeing that storyline develop in season four. With the decision to allow Rose to live at Downton and the death of Matthew, we’re in for a lot of change next season. I can’t wait.


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