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Wednesday, 23 of April of 2014

Mad Men – “To Have and To Hold”

“No, please. Let him go on.”

Megan and Don confused over dinner.

Say what now?

The gluttonous are described in especially sensory language and, if not as acutely structured as Canto V, Canto VI is piled with references and word choice that sing the damnable song of the overfed and forever slurping.

It’s important to distinguish gluttony from other sins, especially avarice. Gluttony is about selfishness more than actually acquiring possessions or things. It’s just about constantly feeding yourself even when it’s too much or too painful. When you’re withholding your spoils from others, specifically not in a miserly way so much as a constantly consuming way, that’s gluttony.

The buffet before you and you constantly take from the food line without regard to anyone else involved, that’s gluttony. Again, it’s not about actually acquiring anything so much as it is about feeding.

In the third circle, a heavy rain, snow, and hailstorm constantly pelts the earth, releasing a horrid smell from the layers of sinners and creating a mud bog. They’re pigs mired in their own shit. Something to think about as Don listens through the door to the other presentation.

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Mad Men – “The Collaborators”

“You want to feel shitty right up until I take your dress off.”

Sylvia and Megan have a talk.

Oh, wait. You were? When did you stop smoking/boozing/having a settled stomach? How else was I as a TV character supposed to know?

I didn’t think about Don’s season of contrition actually following the Inferno closely, particularly since it’s the longest canticle of the Comedy, “The Doorway” didn’t really do much in the way of ferrying Don across any hellish rivers, and Dante spends several cantos in the Malebolge (Circle 8: Simple Fraud) but the show made it easy to view “The Collaborators” in light of the whirlwind second circle.

Lust is a constant on the show as Don tries to fill that hole of validation in his life and everyone else is either trying to mimic Don’s example of success or is uncontrollable when descending from an era of unabashed patriarchal dominance, especially when sick with money and power. Mad Men is almost synonymous with adultery, more so than advertising and Don’s continuous identity crisis.

And while I think the analogy falls apart if you try to compare the first couple of episodes to the first five cantos of Inferno, the depiction of lust here is different than the pedestrian brand we’re used to seeing on the show and has a feeling of intentionally connecting to the second circle. It’s particularly evident at the end of the episode, there’s a key moment that seals the inspiration from the whirlwind punishment of Paolo and Francesca. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Anime Round-Up: April 21, 2013

Sorry for the delay on getting the post up this week. First was that I had a review for Defiance to file for TV.com for tomorrow (it’s not a bad show so far, you should check it out), and that took more time to write than I was anticipating.  The second reason for the delay is that Gargantia‘s new episode airs on Sundays, so I decided to pause so I could not quite be on a delay with that show. So, this week, Gargantia gets two episodes discussed (fitting, since they sort of form a two-parter of sorts). (I suppose I could wait until Monday to incorporate Flowers of Evil, but with Defiance on Monday nights, and me without screeners after the third episode, it’s probably not going to happen.

Don't fuck with Nakamura Flowers of Evil, Episode 2

One of the charms (if we can call it a charm)/horrors of Flowers of Evil is how stuck we are in Kasuga’s psyche. It’s not that we’re not exposed to other people in the series — there’s a whole school of them plus his family around him — it’s that we’re always experiencing and responding to them through Kasuga’s perspective. As a result, the overwhelming guilt and fear of being found out as the thief has real weight to it, perhaps more than I honestly expected the show to convey.

Surprisingly, Kasuga is prepared to come clean, at least to Saeki (no need for all that public shaming that would undoubtedly result). Sure, he’s doing it out of guilt and not a desire to actually do the right thing, though perhaps we’re splitting hairs here. And, in any case, it hardly matters since Nakamura binds him to a contract of black mail of who knows what. At first, it just seems like long bike rides through the mountains, but after pushing Kasuga into Saeki’s breasts as he attempts to apologize, she wants an essay on how he felt at that moment. Welcome to the circle of perversion that is Flowers of Evil. No clear why she wants it, but the glee with which she asks for it implies a decidedly sadistic streak, one that I’m willing to bet Nakamura may not be fully aware of it, or even happy with. Perhaps her loneliness will be solved by completing Kasuga’s corruption.

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Psych – “Deez Nups”

“I’m sober now.”

Yeah. They're stunned, too.

Yeah. They’re stunned, too.

Really?

There’s a certain allowance you have to give a show after it’s been on for so many seasons. By around season 5, characters, particularly comedic ones, have become such parodies of their original casting that the only thing recognizable about them is the actor’s name flashing across the screen (and sometimes even that’s not the case, Second Becky).

It’s no one’s fault. Or at least it wouldn’t be fair to blame any one person. People get into a groove, things become second nature, you push the boundaries of the character a little bit, or what they can or would do, and, suddenly, you have catch phrase like “EAGLE” or you’ve gone from simpleton accountant to functionally retarded. As shows exhaust resources and things turn over or actors get bored and start to expand thing, the show turns into something — different.

Psych has done well to keep its basic premise and feel in tact for seven seasons though with a dulled sharpness. The writers try to make things interesting by somehow finding new territory for them to traverse each week (Santa Barbara has to have had more murders the Cabot Cove by now) and the characters find new ways to express themselves. But every once in a while you’ll get an episode that’s such a mess that it reminds you how old the show is.

And they use that episode to break the biggest arc in the series.

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Anime Round-Up: April 13, 2013

Flowers of Evil, “A Fateful Encounter” (Episode 1)

Nakamura retrieves her test

Likely to be the most controversial of the new shows in the spring season, Flowers of Evil is based on a manga series of the same name in which an isolated teen, Kasuga, ends up in some sort of blackmail scheme after an even more isolated classmate, Nakamura (at right), spots him grabbing the gym bag of their beautiful peer Sakei. I haven’t read the manga (though I have read a couple of reviews of the first volume — hence my basic understanding of the premise), so this isn’t one of those cases where I know how it’s all going to play out in advance.

However, the first episode is just a damn fine piece of work on its own, regardless of how things play out. The use of rotoscoping — yes, rotoscoping! — is the source of much of the controversy around the series. It departs from the style of manga in a pretty significant and obvious way, and the characters look decidedly unfinished and move in jerky ways that seems to somewhat defeat the point of the attempt at a realistic depiction of the series’s characters.

I call shenanigans on this perspective though. I have no ill will toward rotoscoping, and I find that it adds to the show’s aesthetic in a really delightful way. The town these teens live in is decaying and falling apart. Signs are broken, paint is peeling, plants have either died or growing unchecked in alleys, and rust abounds. It’s animated beautifully in stark contrast to the rotoscoped characters, and their unfinished animated nature feels, to me, to be a part of this degradation that surrounds them. Factor in that these characters are still trying to figure out their own identities and what love means (Kasuga refers to Sakei as both a “muse” and a “femme fatale” — someone who both inspires and destroys), and their rotoscoped “ugliness” feels fitting.

Sonically, the episode’s soundtrack adds to the unsettling nature of the episode with long, low volume tones underlying dialog. It creates, along with the episode’s slow pace, an odd sense of tension that is doesn’t actually feel resolved, unless we count the falling of Sakei’s bag from the shelf as the climax of that tension, and I certainly would. Even if the narrative doesn’t end up delivering anything worthwhile, aesthetically, I there’s a lot to engage with in the show.

After the jump, two mecha series are discussed.

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Mad Men – “The Doorway (Parts 1 and 2)”

“Sometimes you have to do things that aren’t your bag.”

Megan and Don toast the new year.

And cent’anni to you, you Italian slut.

Returning to the kind of pacing to this show is always a little different. After watching a year of shows paced like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Bunheads makes watching Mad Men a little interesting.

I feel like I say that every year with the first episode. It’s the slow burn of that show combined with the major plot twists masquerading as trivialities, that Downton Abbey syndrome for a show. Trying explaining Mad Men to your parents and dare to make it sound interesting. Do you talk about a man’s slow decline hidden by genius? Ad agencies in the 1960s? Or do you focus on the soapier aspects of the show, even though those are really symptoms of the show’s true premise?

This isn’t to distract from how good the show is. I wouldn’t say it’s a plodding show like The Killing felt to me in the first few episodes. It just takes some time to get back in the saddle.

But then it didn’t take long for me to get on that horse and ride when you start the season with a Dante quote. Oh, Matt Weiner, you devil. I’m going to apologize to you upfront, reader, for the inevitable focus of this review on that quote. I’ll try tell you my thoughts on this, if not all the words in my head, at least their meaning.

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Justified – “Decoy”

“Holy shit. They circled the wagons.”

Justified TitlecardLES: It was a highly anticipated episode of Justified this week, with many of our fellow critics who’d seen the episode in advance – Alan Sepinwall, Ryan McGee and James Poniewozik to name a few – excitedly trumpeting “Decoy” as the best installment of the season, if not the series. And for the most part, I would say that this was an episode that delivered what it promised, with the U.S. Marshals and the Detroit Mafia turning Harlan County into their playground for an hour in the race to claim Drew Thompson as their prize. This was yet another episode that played to my appreciation of the show’s ability to deliver scenes where a conversation takes place and at any moment, somebody could decide to draw a weapon and it all goes to hell. There’s the glorious state of limbo as the marshal caravan is trapped by Colton’s explosives, the emotional needling Drew sends Raylan’s way all episode, and the ruthless stream of dick-sucking references Nicky Augustine throws at Ava. So many good scenes, I could have watched an entire bottle/vignette episode set at any one of them.

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Negative Track – March 11-18

As we divide our time across several television-themed blogs (approximately, Noel has cofounded or runs about 29 blogs), sometimes we don’t get a chance to properly address the issues that come up in the comments sections of the shows we review. We could but no one would read five paragraphs of comments (Nick is fairly certain people only skim his reviews as it is). So here we have a place for us to address the questions left out of the reviews or new issues that commenters have brought up.

Nick’s calling this the Negative Track for now (like those interludes between tracks on a CD that counted down and could only be found once you played through song — wait, do you remember what a CD is?) but, because the title might be a little esoteric, he’s pretty sure the Monsters will conclave to give it a better title.

This week: Ezra Fitz and the “rapist” label (from Pretty Little Liars, “I’m Your Puppet”), the real serial killer on The Following (from The Following, “Welcome Home”), and “The Farm” backdoor pilot being the bridge between The Office and Parks and Recreation (from The Office, “The Farm”). Noel will likely join next week, when he’s caught up on those other blogs. And maybe this one. GOOD GRIEF, HAS HE NOT WRITTEN A GOOD WIFE REVIEW IN WEEKS? DAMN HIM. (In his defense, the episodes have been pretty just okay.)

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Justified – “Get Drew”

Justified TitlecardSo, yeah, it’s been sort of insane for two of our regular Justified roundtable contributors, so much so that some folks are weeks behind (it wasn’t Noel, Noel stays on top of Harlan County, guys). In any case, Les managed to catch up and Greg Boyd offered to fill in for that slacker Cory this week to discuss the fact that, well, Drew Thompson has been on Justified for a while.

And it wasn’t, as Noel predicted, an older Raylan trying to close a time loop. Read more »


In Prosecution of Guys Named Fitz

Ezra Fitz and Aria Montgomery | President Fitzgerald Grant with Olivia Pope

This is a completely unbiased image.

Guys named Fitz, you’re getting a reputation from your television representatives. And it’s not a good one.

On one show, you have a guy operating in an ethical gray area of sexual law and professional standards, whose development is arrested but not in a cute way. In that abused-child sort of way. The one you would feel sorry for if you had any evidence that it was true.

Then you have another man who is leader of the free world, who everyone insists is a great man and great for the country going forward but seems only to vacillate between dipping his wick and being a jackass to everyone else. If he’d do one thing that was presidential, he might absolve himself but he struggles to do that. He’s a pawn, a schmuck, and a self-serving pansy that hides behind a commanding voice.

These are certainly two different men in different stations of life (even different phases of their lives). But what these jerks share is a common flaw in how their characters are presented. What connects a distracted world leader and a child-touching teacher is mostly in execution: they’ve never done anything to deserve our empathy.

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