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Review: True Blood (S5E2 — Authority Always Wins)

18 Jun

Last week on True Blood

When last we checked into the lives of the citizens of Bon Temps, Russell (Denis O’Hare) was missing, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard), Bill (Stephen Morely), and Nora (Lucy Griffiths) had been captured by the Authority, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) was being pursued by the newly vampiric Rev. Newhouse (Michael McMillan), and Tara (Rutina Wesley) had been turned into a vampire by a rather annoyed Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten).

This week on True Blood

Just judging by last week’s preview of “Authority Always Wins”, you would have been excused for expecting that tonight’s episode would have been totally dominated by Christopher Meloni, playing the role Roman, the head of the Authority.  Well, Meloni doesn’t show up until the episode’s final 15 minutes but he totally manages to dominate every one of those 15 minutes.  Even looking back on this episode in order to write this review, almost of all of my thoughts are dominated by Meloni’s intimidating and powerful performance.

Before Meloni’s appearance, the majority of the show was made up of scenes of Bill, Eric, and Nora being held prisoner and interrogated in the Authority’s headquarters.  Whoever designed the Authority’s headquarters deserves an Emmy for set design next year and director Michael Lehman makes good use of the contrast between the baroque corporate chic of the upper levels and the grim and stark prison in the lower levels. 

During one particularly harrowing sequence, both Eric and Bill are interrogated by separate Authority members.  Both Bill and Eric are hooked up to machines that look a bit like Jack Kervorkian’s suicide machine and silver is slowly pumped into their veins.  Bill’s wonderfully creepy interrogator asks if Bill is familiar with the Vampire Bible and then goes on to explain that, according to the Vampire Bible, God created Lilith first (as a vampire) and Adam and Eve were then created to serve as a food source.  As someone who has long loved all the legends that surround the character of Lilith, I loved this little development.

After they are both interrogated, Bill and Eric are eventually brought before the Authority and it’s here that Roman finally makes his appearance.  Stalking about with his hulking frame concealed beneath a perfectly tailored suit, Meloni totally owns both the role and the final fourth of this episode.  Whether he’s bellowing in rage or coolly slitting open his own wrist without so much as even flinching, Meloni gives a performance in this episode that perfectly captures the aura of power that a character like Roman needs to be believable.  I think the main reason why Meloni does so well here is because you look into his penetrating eyes and you see his cold expression and you believe — as you rarely believe with most other actors — that Meloni really could kill someone.

Speaking of killing someone, Roman comes close to killing Bill until Bill explains that Russell isn’t actually dead.  Roman agrees to put off administering the true death so that Bill and Eric can track down and kill Russell.  Another benefit of Meloni’s domineering performance is that seeing how scared Roman is of Russell serves to remind the viewer that Russell can be pretty intimidating himself.

The episode’s other major plotline dealt with Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) having to deal with the newly turned Tara.  Pam, to no one’s great surprise, reacts to Tara’s resurrection by saying, “She’s all yours, kiddoes,” and then running off.  Tara ends up spending the night tearing apart Sookie’s house.  When she’s asleep during the day, Lafayette — who was the one who first suggested that Pam turn Tara in the first place — comes close to staking her but he’s talked out of it by Sookie.  When Tara does wake up, she utters her first words since turning and tells Lafayette and Sookie that she’ll never forgive them.  She then disappears into the night.

Speaking of newly-turned vampires, Rev. Newlin is now showing up on TV where, smiling in that creepy way of his, he gives interviews about his new life as a vampire and how he can be both a vampire and a Christian.  One interviewer asks Newlin if he has someone in his life and Newlin replies, “Yes.  She makes me very happy,” which would seem to indicate that, even in the world of True Blood, it’s more socially acceptable to be openly vampiric than openly gay. 

Soon afterward, Newlin is confronting Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and offering $10,000 to buy Jason from her.  Jessica refuses and mocks Newlin with, “My dad is king.”  Newlin smugly replies, “Not anymore.”  This little scene makes me fear that somehow, in another episode or two, Rev. Newlin — who is preaching the same type of co-existence as the Authority — will end up as the new king of Louisiana.

It’s just a feeling I’ve got.

A Few Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • The power struggle with the werewolves continued to slowly develop in this episode.  As I’ve stated before, I’ve never really been that interested in the werewolves but tonight’s episode had some effective black humor concerning the werewolf tradition of eating the previous packmaster.  Add to that, Dale Dickey continue to be a brilliant character actress.
  • Though Luna would probably disagree, didn’t Emma just make the cutest little wolf?
  • While the show was dominated by Meloni, I have to give some extra praise to Rutina Wesley who did a great job tonight as a feral, newly turned vampire.  The scenes where she hatefully and cautiously eyed both Lafayette and Sookie were some of the best in this episode.
  • Nelsan Ellis, who rarely gets enough credit for his work as Lafayette, also did a notably good job in this episode.
  • If there was one performance I didn’t care for in this episode, it was the performance of the guy who played the clerk in the gun store.  I felt he went a bit over the top in his performance and was trying way too hard to be a redneck.  That said, his overacting was nicely balanced by Paquin’s more humorous approach to the material.
  • While Tara was going crazy, Pam was having flashbacks to her previous life and the first time she met Eric.  I have to admit that I’ve reached a point where I’m cynical about flashback scenes on shows that feature vampires.  I’m always hoping that there will be at least one vampire who was not a decadent libertine in the 18th and 19th century.  That said, I thought that Pam’s scenes were well-handed.  If nothing else, Alexander Skarsgard looked good in a top hat.
  • By the way, how many viewers initially assumed that Eric was responsible for the dead prostitute in Pam’s flashback?
  • I’m not sure how much I like this whole subplot with Terry having flashbacks to what appears to be an Iraq war atrocity.  The whole thing feels rather predictable and, quite frankly, whenever a character on a television show mentions serving in Iraq, you know that he’s going to start having atrocity-flashbacks within a couple of minutes.  (It often feels like a cheap shot at the men and women who served in an unpopular war.)  Hopefully, showrunner Alan Ball will do something unexpected with this subplot and prove my doubts wrong.  That said, Todd Lowe’s sleep-walking scene was a definite highlight.
  • Finally, a correction.  Last week, there were a lot of people (including, I’m sad to say, me) who went, “Ewwwwww!” as soon as Eric started making out with his “sister” Nora.  As my BFF and fellow True Blood lover Evelyn explained to me later, Nora and Eric are not blood related.  Really, it should have been obvious from Nora’s English accent.

If only for the introduction of Christopher Meloni as Roman, this was a good episode.  If nothing else, it left us with no doubt that the Authority always wins.

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Review: True Blood (S5E1 — Turn! Turn! Turn!)

12 Jun

This post originally appeared at Through The Shattered Lens.

(Possible Spoilers Below)

Before I start my review of the premiere episode of the 5th season of True Blood, I should offer up a confession.  I’ve enjoyed watching True Blood for a while now.  I think Alexander Skarsgard is to die for, I think Anna Paquin’s an underrated actress, and I think that Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Jason (Ryan Kwanten) are a cute couple.  I thought last season was brilliant and I thought that the finale especially was exciting and well-done.

That said, I’m hardly a True Blood expert and I’m not going to pretend that I am one.  Like a lot of this show’s fans, I wasn’t there when the show first started.  By the time I saw my first episode, True Blood was already into season 2 and I didn’t become a regular viewer until season 3.   Since then, I’ve worked to get caught up on show’s first seasons but I’m hardly an expert.  (Incidentally, I haven’t read the books either.)  I’m a fan and that’s the approach that I’ll be bringing to my reviews this season.

Anyway, tonight’s episode starts right where season 4 ended: Tara (Rutina Wesley) is bleeding to death on the floor of Sookie’s (Anna Paquin) kitchen, as the result of being shot in the face by Debbie who was then shot and killed by Sookie.  Lafayette (Nelson Ellis), who is still mourning his dead lover, comes downstairs and discovers the mess.  Suddenly, Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten, who is hilariously scornful of everyone and everything in this episode) shows up searching for Eric.  Lafayette asks Pam to turn Tara into a vampire.  Pam is, at first, reluctant until Sookie says she’ll “owe you one” in return.  I imagine that promise is something we’ll being hearing about a lot for the rest of this season.  By the end of the episode, it appears that Tara has returned as a vampire and I get the feeling that she might not be too happy about that.

Speaking of new vampires, the thoroughly creepy Rev. Newlin (Michael McMillan) is back, he’s now a vampire, and he’s’ apparently in love with Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten).  After he manages to trick Jason into letting him enter his house, Newlin explains: “I’m a gay vampire American…”  Newlin explains this while he just happens to have Jason tied to a chair.  The scene between Newlin and Jason were probably the most obviously politically-charged sequence in tonight’s episode, with Newlin seemingly standing in for such real-life homophobic bigots as Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.  Anyway, Newlin is chased off by Jessica who shows up to announce that “Jason is mine!”

So are Jessica and Jason back together all official-like now?  Not quite.  Jason later tracks Jessica down to an incredibly tacky frat party where Jessica explains to him that she just said that to scare off the Rev. Newlin.  The whole party sequence was actually my favorite part of this episode.  I loved the reminder that not everyone in Bon Temps is obsessed with the supernatural.  Some people just want to drink beer and sing karaoke.  Deborah Ann Woll, in particular, gave a good performance here and it was obvious that both she and the character she plays loved vamping it up.

But what about Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Bill (Stephen Moyer)?  When last we saw, they were killing Nan (Jessica Tuck) and getting told off by Sookie.  Tonight’s episode found Eric scrubbing away Nan’s remains while Bill called Jessica and told her that he would be going away for a few weeks.  They detect the danger at Sookie’s house but Eric coldly dismisses it with, “Fuck Sookie.”  Bill disagrees but even as they run out of the house, they are captured by the Authority.  Fortunately, Eric’s sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) works for the Authority and she rescues both of them.  She and Eric then proceed to spend most of the rest of the episode having sex and uhmmm…Eric, that’s your sister.  Eric tells Bill, “We fight like siblings but we fuck like champions.”  Ewwwww. 

Now, it’s a testament to the charisma and body of Alexander Skarsgard that, even when committing very graphic incest, he’s still the hottest thing ever to show up on HBO. 

Anyway, Eric, Bill, and Nora meet up with some rebel vampires and are given false identities and appear to be on the verge of escaping when suddenly, the Authority’s goons show up and recapture them. I assume this is setting everything up for Chris Meloni to show up in the next episode.

But that’s not all that happened tonight!  One of the things that I love about True Blood is that it’s never shied away from offering up as many plot complications as possible per episode.  This is not a show that moves slowly and that was certainly true tonight.

It turns out that season 3’s main villain Russell (Denis O’Hare) isn’t dead and he’s not where he’s supposed to be.  Meanwhile, Scott Foley is wandering around town acting enigmatic, Andy (Chris Bauer) is still proving himself to be a dumbass in general, and apparently there’s some sort of power struggle developing with the werewolves.

A Few Random Observations:

  • I have to admit, I’ve never been that interested in the werewolves.  They’re just not as much fun as the vampires.  That’s one of the few things that True Blood has in common with the Twilight series.
  • Best line of the episode comes from Pam: “I’m wearing a Wal-Mart sweatsuit for you all.  If that’s not a demonstration of team spirit, I don’t know what is.”  My twitter timeline literally exploded with people reacting to that line.
  • My second favorite line was Alcide’s “It smells clean.  Like lemons on top of ammonia on top of bleach.”
  • If you’re like me and you mostly watch this show because you’re hoping for a chance to catch Alexander Skarsgard undressed, this episode did not disappoint.
  • This was a good episode for your Jessica lovers as well.  One of my favorite parts of tonight’s episode was when she dismissed the Rev. Newlin by explaining that she’s older than him.
  • Chris Bauer continues to play the most realistic lawman on television.
  • As much as I love Alexander Skarsgard, Stephen Morley had some great scenes tonight.  His facial expressions while watching Nora and Eric were priceless.
  • I felt bad for Sookie during her little flashback scene.
  • The return of True Blood means a return of my effots to get my sister to allow me to dye her hair “Pacquin blonde.”
  • I hope Nora’s around for the rest of the season.  Incest aside, she’s a great character and Lucy Griffiths gave a great performance tonight.
  • I was hoping that Russell would physically show up on tonight’s episode but I’m actually kind of glad that he didn’t.  With everything else that was going on tonight, I’m glad that I have something to look forward to in the future.
  • Another thing I’m looking forward to: Chris Meloni as Roman.  If anyone was born to play a vampire named Roman, it’s Chris Meloni.

So, over all, I think tonight’s episode was a good start for season 5 and I look forward to spending another 11 episodes in Bon Temps.

A Blast From The Past: The Saved By The Bell “No Hope With Dope” PSA

28 Mar

I remember when I was growing up, there was literally never a time when you couldn’t find Saved By The Bell playing somewhere.  I grew up watching The New Class (well, not so much watching as acknowledging because, even when I was just 10 years old, I knew The New Class sucked.)  And then, as I got older, I discovered not only the fabled Old Class but the fact that the Old Class was like those Shamwow and Snuggie commercials — annoying, terrible, but impossible not to watch and quote later.

One of the best things about Saved By The Bell was that every episode had a message and often time, that message was even funnier if considered while doing the sort of things that the show’s message specifically said you shouldn’t do.

Case in point: The PSA that appeared at the end of the infamous “No Hope With Dope” episode.

When watching the video below, pay special attention to the moment when Screech pops out of the locker and see if you can spot the picture of John Lennon smoking a joint.

Who Are We Going To Hate Now?

21 Mar

Okay, since this blog is about television, I should start with a confession: I love reality television, I love Survivor, and I make absolutely no apologies for it.  Yes, I’ve heard all the argument.  Reality television is manipulative.  Reality television dumbs down the national dialogue.  Reality television is real in name only.  Reality television puts hardworking television writers on the unemployment line.  I’ve heard all the arguments and I say “So what?”  Reality television is silly, over the top, and a lot of fun and really, isn’t that what television is supposed to be in the first place?  The rest of you can have your predictable urban cop shows and your pompous, issue-themed gabfests.  I’ll take Survivor any day.

Up until this latest episode (entitled Thanks For The Souvenir), the current season of Survivor has been dominated by one person and that person is a flamboyantly gay, self-described Republican, and downright nasty individual named Colton.  When the season first began, I was like a lot of people in that I felt sorry for Colton because he was an outcast, an outspokenly gay, unathletic man stranded with a tribe of alpha males.  I was happy when Colton got the season’s first immunity trial and then, by forging an alliance with the game’s other outcasts, managed to vote out the most insanely alpha of the alpha males.  (That would be Matt, who I actually talked to a little bit on twitter.  He turned out to be a surprisingly charming guy.)

And then suddenly, Colton went from being an underdog to perhaps the worst human being to ever appear on a reality television program.  He somehow talked the men’s tribe into giving up their immunity and going to tribal council, all so he could kick Bill out of the game.  Colton’s problem with Bill appeared to come down to the fact that Bill was 1) not rich and 2) black.  When the tribes were eventually rearranged and Colton found himself a member of a new tribe, he immediately teamed up with the equally loathsome Alicia and voted out Monica, one of the few decent people on the island this season.  Upon returning from that tribal council, Colton and Alicia immediately started to taunt Monica’s only ally, Christina.  Colton told Christina that she was already pre-selected as the next to go.  “You can either quit, get voted off, or throw yourself in the fire,” he told her in between fits of maniacal laughter.

In short, Colton was the type of over the top, unlikable asshole who could only exist in the world of reality television.  No television writer would have had the guts to create a character as loathsome as Colton.  They certainly wouldn’t have had the guts to make him as openly and flamboyantly gay as Colton was.  If they had, they would have been accused (and probably quite rightly) of promoting homophobia.  And yet, honestly, it was the conflict between Colton’s outcast status as a homosexual and his own cruel personality that made him a compelling character.  If he wasn’t gay, he would have just been another elitist, racist toadsucker.  However, since he was gay, it made him all the more interesting of a character.  You watched and you considered the irony that this guy who had undoubtedly had to face discrimination on a daily basis could, at the same time, have no problem being an openly racist elitist who bragged about his ability to destroy other people.  You wondered if his “villainy” was more of a defense mechanism or perhaps revenge for a world that he knew would never accept him. 

As the show progressed, it was hard to ignore that the world of reality tv was the only place that a character as frequently loathsome as Colton could become a star.  The fact of the matter is that we reality tv fans love our villains.  We love to hate on them.  We love to talk about how disgusted we are by them.  We watch them and we say, “Why won’t they just vote him off!?” but secretly we know that the reason we watch a show like Survivor is for the chance to see what newest outrage a person like Colton can come up with from week to week.

Up until this last episode, I thought that this season would be the season of Colton.  I expected he would probably be around long around into the game and I was looking forward to seeing him finally get voted out, blindsided by those that he had spent the entire season dismissing.

That’s not going to happen.

Halfway through tonight’s episode, Colton suddenly stopped being obnoxious and arrogant and suddenly, he was lying in a fetal position in the middle of the jungle, whimpering in pain and crying as he was informed, by Jeff Probst and the team’s medical team, that he had appendicitis and would have to leave the game.  In a final act of pure Colton selfishness, he took the immunity idol with him, claiming it as a souvenir. 

Now, I have to admit that I didn’t have much sympathy for Colton.  I like to think of myself as being a good person and I usually hate to see anyone in any type of pain but honestly?  Colton deserved it.  I hope he’s okay now and I’m glad that he didn’t die but that doesn’t make Colton any loathsome of a human being.  As I watched him being taken out of the game, my first thoughts were along the lines of “Yay!”

It was only during the next commercial break that I asked the obvious question.

“Who are we going to hate now?”

Bye Bye, Colton

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