Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wings: The Fifth Season

Written by Senora Bicho

I have never been much of a television sitcom fan. There are a handful of shows over my lifetime I have regularly watched and Wings was one of them. I was introduced to and fell in love with Tim Daly as the responsible brother, Joe Hackett, and longed to be as beautiful as his on-again off-again love interest Helen Chappel (Crystal Bernard). Wings is a quirky and fun show that still provides laughs.

The series aired on NBC from 1990 to 1997. It was created and produced by David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee. This highly successful television trio also wrote for and produced Cheers and was responsible for creating the critically acclaimed and multiple Emmy Award-winning series Fraiser. The comedy of Wings is in the same vein of these other more well-known shows and characters from Cheers even appeared in the early seasons. I actually prefer Wings to these other two programs. The characters are more likeable and I could relate to them much more.

Wings is a comedy based around the people working in a small airport on the island of Nantucket. Joe owns and operates Sandpiper Air. Brian Hackett (Steven Weber) is Joe’s reckless, carefree womanizing brother. Helen runs the lunch counter while dreaming of being a famous cellist. In addition to the three main characters, there is Lowell Mather (Thomas Haden Church) a lovable but dimwitted handyman, Fay Evelyn Schlob Dumbly DeVay Cochran (Rebecca Schull) an ex-stewardess with three dead husbands that works for Joe at the ticket counter and provides lots of motherly advice, Roy Biggins (David Schramm) the obnoxious owner of Sandpiper’s rival airline who drives everyone crazy with his high jinx and insults and Antonio Scarpacci (Tony Shaloub), the sweet Italian immigrant who provides taxi service to and from the airport.

The foundation of the series is the relationship between Joe and Brian. It began with the death of Joe and Brian’s father whose last request was the reuniting of his sons. Six years earlier, Brian ran off with Joe’s fiancé Carol. After Carol leaves him, Brian comes back to the island and Joe eventually forgives him with a job and a place to live.

Season Five provides several key storylines. Farrah Forke (Alex Lambert) joined the cast in Season Four as Brian’s potential love interest and in this season they get serious and move in together. Not surprisingly, they break up before the season is over. Joe has a mental breakdown and in an attempt to have more of a work/life balance makes Brian an equal partner in the airline. Helen gets a rich new love interest who ends up proposing in the season finale, which could be enough to finally get Joe back in the picture.

Several members of this stellar cast have gone on to other things. Shaloub is now best known for his three-time Emmy-winning performance in the USA series Monk. Church left the series after its sixth season to star in Ned and Stacey and became an Oscar winner for his supporting performance in Sideways. Daly has been in several television shows and can now be seen in the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice. Weber has been in many TV shows most recently Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and films including a great performance in the film Sour Grapes that was written and directed by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. This is a hysterical film and is worth renting if you haven’t seen it. Bernard has been in numerous TV movies mostly shown on the USA network. If you have enjoyed any of these actors in other performances, you should definitely see them shine in Wings.

The DVD set offers no extras, only the 24 original episodes from Season Five. A great cast and excellent writing is what makes Wings such a delight, so get on board and prepare to takeoff for some laughs.

Metalocalypse: Season One

Written by Puño Estupendo

Could you imagine if The Beatles had decided to instill their music with hate and violence instead of love and peace? What if they had gotten so popular that they more or less operated above any law or authority, hated their fans, and you absolutely worshiped them for it? Well, with the invention of the fictitious band Dethklok, creators Tommy Blacha and Brendon Small have taken a similar concept, doubled it, and made their version "blacker than the blackest black times infinity."

This is beyond metal...this is a Metalocalypse!

Under Cartoon Network's [Adult Swim] lineup, fans of this animated metal fest can now enjoy the mayhem of Dethklok in the two-disc Metalocalypse: Season One DVD. Originally seen in 15-minute increments, this set collects all 20 episodes and splatters in quite a few "Easter Eggs" as well. Though there's no rating other than the disclaimer on the box that it may not be suitable for viewers under 17, know that this cartoon is not for the young ones.

Heavily infused with splatter, gore, and some sexual referencing, Blacha and Small have managed to not only tap into the easily parodied world of Metal, but they've pulled it off almost like a tribute. It's very obvious in watching the show that even though it's filled with jokes, these guys make no apologies for their sheer love of the music. If you're a metalhead like me, you don't feel stupid or ashamed for it even when the ridiculous nature of it all punches you in the throat. Metalocalypse doesn't attack the nature of heavy metal; it embraces it and glorifies the clichés.

Keeping with the attitude that runs rampant with metal, most of the humor relies on the need many metalheads have to keep things tough at all times. The band refers to keeping things "brutal" throughout and the machismo runs wild. There are quite a few in-jokes for metal fans, but you don't have to be a head-banger to enjoy the show.

What you “do” need is a liking for cruel and dark humor. People being torn apart, suicides, dead children with maggots in their face, drunk driving, eyes exploding out of their sockets, and an ocean of blood. If reading that list just made you wince, then this DVD is not for you.

At all.

In fact, not only is everything I've just listed used as a joke, but there are many other vile and gory situations all throughout every episode and I loved it. The violence is over the top but it's very essential in keeping with the theme; it works.

And then there's the music. Written and performed by Brendon Small, who voices Dethklok vocalist Nathan Explosion, the songs legitimately throw down. I don't believe I'm alone in thinking this since the Dethklok CD (which was released before the DVD) sold over 300,000 copies in its first week and now I'm hearing rumblings of a tour.

If this sounds like your cup of blood, then go out and buy Metalocalypse: Season One on DVD. Then "go forth and die."

The L Word: The Complete Fourth Season

Written by Senora Bicho

The L Word is a television drama that centers on a tight-knit group of female friends. Similar to Sex and the City, the women experience relationship ups and downs, job issues, and a host of other problems. What makes this show unique is that the women in this group of friends are lesbian and bi-sexual. While the show is overly dramatic, it does tackle real issues and brings subjects to light that are thought-provoking and that deserve to be discussed.

Ilene Chaiken is the creator, writer, and executive producer. Her previous experience includes The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Barb Wire, not a strong resume by any stretch. The show premiered on Showtime in January 2004. Production has started on Season Five and the season premiere will air in January 2008.

Season Four provided a lot of excitement for the group along with adding a few new faces. Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) are dealing with the aftermath of their breakup and custody of their daughter Angelica. Tina has also started dating a man, which creates some interesting dimensions and hostilities in the group. Shane (Katherine Moennig) left her fiancé at the altar at the end of Season Three and is trying to get her life back on track. She ends up with custody of her brother. This has a dramatic impact on her outlook on life and attitude towards responsibility. One of the most interesting storylines is about Max (Daniela Sea) and her desire to physically transition into a man. The hostility that she faces from her co-workers and family is very disturbing and authentic. Alice (Leisha Hailey) continues to host her radio show while building her Internet site based on “The Chart” and becomes involved with a military officer who ends up being called back to Iraq. Jenny (Mia Kirshner) has published a book about the group that hits a little to close to home for some of the ladies. Kit (Pam Grier) has a relapse with her alcoholism when she encounters some relationship problems.

Cybill Shephard, Marleen Matlin and Janina Gavankar joined the cast in Season Four. Shephard is the Executive Vice Chancellor at the university where Bette starts working. After 23 years of marriage and two children, she realizes she has been living a lie and is really a lesbian. Matlin is an artist at the university and Bette’s new love interest. Both provide good performances and are welcome additions. Gavankar plays Papi, whose conquest totals crash Alice’s website. Alice becomes fascinated with her and sets out on a mission to track her down.

While the DVD cover promised special features, there are none to be found about the show itself. There is an episode of The Tudors and Californication, a message from a couple of the stars on pet rescue, the announcement of some contest winners, biographies, and a photo gallery.

The L Word is a fun and entertaining show that one can easily be sucked into. It is also great to see a show that is based all around strong, independent women that also empowers the gay community. If you have Showtime and enjoy melodramatic television, give it a chance as some of the storylines are intriguing. I can’t recommend purchasing the DVD collection unless you are a die-hard fan of the show and plan on owning every single episode.

My Name is Earl: Season Two

Written by Musgo Del Jefe

One of the most important things for a sitcom is that the premise is simply explained in the credits. In the case of Two And A Half Men, it's all summed up in the show title. In classics like Gilligan's Island or The Brady Bunch we meet all the characters in the opening credits and know the central backstory through the theme song. The same applies to My Name Is Earl. We see Earl scratching a winning lottery ticket and then getting hit by a car. The narration tells us that he was a bad guy and now he's making up for his bad karma by crossing items off his list of things he's done wrong.

The first season of Earl followed a pretty predictable pattern. Some event caused Earl to decide to fix a particular item on his list. The easier the task sounded, the harder it was to solve. Sometimes, solving one problem, lead to having to solve two or three others before the first was righted. Each of the episodes introduced us to fun new characters of Camden County. And we got to know more about main characters Earl Hickey (Jason Lee), Randy Hickey (Ehtan Suplee), Joy Turner (Jaime Pressly) and Darnell Turner aka Crabman (Eddie Steeples). But at the end of each episode, we were usually back where we started.

Season Two starts what will become a much different tact. In "Very Bad Things", Earl wants to fix #183 - "Never Took Joy's Side." Joy wants to get a "disappearing TV" like she saw on the Britney & Kevin TV show. When it won't fit in her trailer, she's unable to return it to the store because she got Fruit Stripe gum on the receipt. This innocuous moment is the catalyst for the next 23 episodes of the 2nd Season. While we'll still follow Earl and his list, this brilliant move creates a new energy that most sitcoms can't come up with in their second seasons. From a writer's point-of-view, you have a built in B-Story for every episode. But it's not that simple.

In "Jump For Joy," Joy's problem returning the TV has turned into her being arrested for stealing a delivery truck. This is her "Third Strike" and she's facing years in prison. This episode's A-Story is all about raising money to bail Joy out of jail. But the offshoot of this will be to start the other ongoing storyline of Catalina (the maid at the motel where Randy and Earl live). Catalina's story will weave in and out of the storylines, while Joy's will be a constant background through the season. This episode clearly defines the relationship between Catalina and Joy with Catalina's quote, "Joy's a butt bag. A bag of butts."

When not featured, Joy's story will be a solid B-Story, like meeting her lawyer (Marlee Matlin) in "Sticks & Stones." Or as a catalyst for Earl's list. Like when he's helping Joy volunteer at a nursing home and he meets #50 - "Kicked The Lead Singer Out Of My Band." As the season progresses, Catalina will go back to Mexico and eventually return to Camden. Joy will get pregnant, further complicating her upcoming trial. The looming trial and pregnancy put this season squarely on her character and give us viewers the feeling of forward progress that wasn't present in the first season.

The show makes great use of guest stars. They are written into the stories very naturally and don't feel forced. This season features fun appearances of Burt Reynolds, Roseanne Barr, Norm MacDonald, Jenny McCarthy, Marlee Matlin's recurring lawyer character, Amy Sedaris, and a memorable performance by Christian Slater as a stoner named Woody.

The two best episodes of the season show how this fresh approach has improved the show. In "Sticks & Stones," Earl sets out to fix #91 - "Made Fun Of Maggie Lester." Maggie is now a bearded lady living in an apartment building with other carnival folks. Earl is reminded of a time that he wouldn't go swimming as a youngster because of his hairy nipples. And he's never jumped off the high dive since then. The B-Story has Joy meeting her lawyer and initially dropping her because she doesn't want a deaf lawyer. In the end, everyone learns not to run away from their problems and it's set to the Cat Stevens' song "If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out."

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out/ And if you want to be free, be free/ 'Cause there's a million things to be/ You know that there are

Earl, Maggie and her carnival friends, and Joy all learn to face their fears.

In, "Buried Treasure," the usual plot threads are dropped in order to spin a fun tale. This Rashomon-type story is divided into "My Name Is Earl," "My Name Is Joy," "My Name Is Darnell," and "My Name Is Randy" as each fills in part of the story of the "Buried Treasure" from different points of view (even including Dotty the librarian). This self-referential parody gives us insight into the characters through narration that we're not used to and is a fun break from the structured plots of the first half of the season.

The ongoing story arcs make this a very enjoyable season. The DVD has a nice collection of deleted scenes and commentary tracks, giving it extra value for those that have seen the episodes in their original airings. The only complaint here is the replacement of some of the music with some very generic sounding background music. The show's feel is fresh and new still. Like Randy tells Catalina about the list, "Sometimes you're doing one thing and Bam! It's something else." And that "something else" is exactly what makes you want to keep tuning in for the next episode.