Monthly Archive for May, 2013

The Trials of SHAZAM!, Vol. 2

The Trials of SHAZAM!, Vol. 2 (5/30/13) Comics (2008 **) Written by Judd Winick, illustrated by Howard Porter and Mauro Cascioli. Originally published in Trials of SHAZAM! #7-12. Freddy Freeman competes with evil sorceress Sabina de la Croix for the various powers that add up to the letters in… a certain magic word that Freddy must be very selective in speaking aloud. You may be wondering why I’m writing a review of the second volume without having read the first. Well, this is one of those comics I picked up at my favorite used book store, a place I hadn’t visited for a long time. Funny thing about used comics and graphic novels: A lot of them are there for a reason, and this is one of those. In all honesty, I don’t think my appraisal would be any higher if I had read the first half of the story. I’ve been out of the loop comic-wise for awhile, at least with regards to The Marvel Family. Evidently something had happened to Billy Batson and his sister Mary, but it wasn’t covered explicitly in this book. I suspect that whatever happened, it was a far more engaging story than the one I read.

Family Guy, Season 11

Family Guy, Season 11 (5/30/13) FOX (2012-2013 ***) Series created by Seth MacFarlane, featuring the voices of Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green and Mila Kunis. 22 episodes, originally aired 9/30/12 – 5/19/12. The adventures of Maine’s Peter Griffin and his family of borderline sociopaths attempt to avoid repeating themselves or any of the storylines on The Simpsons. Highlights of this season included: Stewie’s obsession with Anne Murray; Mayor Adam West’s murder trial and Stewie and Brian (and Stewie and Brian) in Las Vegas. It’s interesting that Seth MacFarlane’s animated family sit-com with an edge has become such a mainstream institution. It’s perhaps worth noting that this season took place in the same year that Seth MacFarlane made his feature directorial debut with R-rated talking Teddy bear comedy Ted (2012), then hosted The 85th Annual Academy Awards. I can’t help but wonder if Family Guy‘s creator’s creative attention was split. There was a sense of the show running more or less on automatic pilot, and the level of writing seemed more tired than in years past. Of course, it’s also possible that in my advanced years I’ve outgrown this crass, adolescent show, and that I’ve matured as a human being and have reached an elevated level of enlightenment and sophistication… Nope, I don’t think that’s it.

The Simpsons, Season 24

The Simpsons, Season 24 (5/30/13) FOX (2012-2013 ***) Series created by Matt Groening, featuring the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner, Yeardly Smith, Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria. 22 Episodes, originally aired 9/30/12 – 5/19/13. Homer Simpson and his jaundiced cartoon family experience the kinds of wacky weekly adventures their sort generally do, invariably in interleaved dual-story installments. It’s hard to believe The Simpsons is coming up on a quarter century, not counting their early appearances on The Tracey Ullman Show (1987-1990). Highlights of the season included: “Treehouse of Horror XXIII” (which included a Back to the Future parody), Springfield becoming cool, with the help of Portlandia‘s Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein; Millhouse passing for an adult; an in-depth look at Carl Carlson’s Icelandic heritage and Marge teetering dangerously close to marital infidelity with… Seth MacFarlane? After 24 seasons, what can I really say about The Simpsons, other than it’s become a television staple? The show continues to entertain, but only up to a point, and I’d be lying if I said this season was particularly memorable. The level of writing was solid, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was inspired. Will we keep watching? Sure, why not?

The Office, Season 9

The Office, Season 9 (5/29/13) NBC (2012-2013 ***1/4) Series created by Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Greg Daniels, starring Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and Ed Helms. 23 episodes, originaly aired 9/20/12 – 5/16/23. The paper pushers at Scranton, Pennsylvania’s Dunder Mifflin  wrap up their days as documentary subjects. Highlights of this, the ninth and final season, included: The intrusion into the show by the documentary crew, Jim and Pam’s rough patch and subsequent renewed marital bond, Andy’s departure for a show business life and the disintegration of Angela’s sham marriage to the senator and her marriage to her destiny (minor spoiler ahead), a beet farmer named Dwight Schrute. Though I’ve watched it from the beginning, the American version of The Office is one of those shows that I loved at one point, but then somewhere along the way its charms had definitely faded. After Jim and Pam’s wedding and Steve Carell (SP), it definitely floundered, never regaining what it once was. With “stunt casting” like James Spader and Kathy Bates, it became painfully apparent the writers were trying everything they could think of to pump vitality into the show, but nothing seemed to stick. It was well-publicized either before the ninth season began or shortly thereafter that it would be the show’s last. In fact, it was because it was to be the final season that I didn’t abandon it after season eight. Since I’d been there from the beginning, it seemed only right that I should see it through to the end. And for what it’s worth, I have to give the writer’s credit: With the end in sight, there was a bump in the energy of the show, and it was also apparent they wanted to end the show with dignity. For the most part, I thought it ended well, with a satisfying, bittersweet note, though it didn’t come close to matching the more memorable series finales from my childhood, like M*A*S*H (1972-1983) or The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). Then again, how could it? Prior to The Office‘s final episode, NBC aired a one-hour retrospective special, which was nice to put the run of the show into better perspective. It also was a nice reminder that many of the actors had very little experience when the show began. I also found it quite surprising that Ricky Gervais got such a short segment,  considering it had been his award-winning British version that had been the inspiration for the American show in the first place. Then again, you are talking about a difference between 14 episodes and 187.

The Good Life (AKA Good Neighbors), Series 2

The Good Life (AKA Good Neighbors), Series 2 (5/29/13) DVD (1975-1976 ***1/2) Series produced and directed by John Howard Davies, written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, starring Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Paul Eddington and Penelope Keith. Seven episodes, originally aired 12/5/75 – 1/23/76. Suburbanite self-sufficiency followers Tom and Barbara Good have made it past their first harvest, but each day brings a new challenge. Highlights of the second series included Tom going to jail for shooting a leek thief and Margo’s disasterous turn as Maria in a decidedly amateur production of The Sound of Music. It’s clear that part of my enjoyment of this show stems from sentimentality from having watched the episodes when they aired on PBS, back when I was in my teens. The lingering effects of my teenage crush on Felicity Kendal may have  something to do with how much I love this show, even after all these years. However, nostalgia aside, it was also extremely well done, with an interesting premise and well-drawn characters. With this second series the show had really hit its stride. If you’ve never watched the show before, I highly recommend giving it a try. And if you are familiar with it, don’t you think it’s high time for a revisit?

The Mindy Project, Season 1

The Mindy Project, Season 1 (5/27/13) FOX (2012-2013 ***1/4) Series created by Mindy Kaling, starring Mindy Kaling, Chris Messina, Ed Weeks, Zoe Jarman and Ike Barinholtz. 24 episodes, originally aired 9/25/12 – 5/14/13. Obstetrician  Mindy Lahiri works, laughs and loves (and loves, and loves…) in The Big Apple. This show took a few episodes to find its footing, but once it did, it became a staple in hour household TV watching. While most of the supporting characters felt at first like they were generated by a “random supporting sit-com characters generator” app, they began to grow on me over this first season. On a recent appearance on The Daily Show, Mindy Kaling made a comment about how she was one of a small group of individuals with their own TV shows named after them. My feeling is she deserves to be in that small set. She really is the star of the show and our primary reason for watching. In her role as show producer, Kaling clearly had no compunction about calling in favors from famous friends, and it was nice to see the guest appearances over the season by Bill Hader, Ed Helms, and B.J. Novak. It was also somewhat refreshing to see her go through several boyfriends (and near-boyfriends) over the course of the season, and while the final episode indicates she’s committing to one of them, it’s equally obvious that she still has more to go through before she finds “the one.”

Water

Water (5/27/13) Netflix (2005 ***1/4) Directed by Deepa Mehta, starring Sarala Kariyawasam, Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas and John Abraham. Set in 1938 India, Chuyia is a seven year-old widow forced by the teachings of Krishna to live in a widows’ ashram. This is one of those movies I had very little interest in watching, yet I was hooked within the first five minutes. The film was incredibly well made, the characters and their situations were interesting and the cinematography was fantastic. However, as much as I appreciated its filmmaking, and as sympathetic as I was to the plight of the various characters, Water falls soundly into the category of “awesome films I never need to see again.” This is due primarily to its subject matter and many of its plot elements. I know that makes me a small person, but for what it’s worth, it also puts Water into the same category with a lot of other terrific films. And who knows? There’s always a chance I’ll grow up some day…

Booster Gold: Reality Lost

Booster Gold: Reality Lost (5/27/13) Comics (2009 ***1/4) Written by Chuck Dixon and Dan Jurgens, illustrated by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund. Originally published in Booster Gold #11,12,15-19. Fame-seeker Booster Gold accepts obscurity in order to ride Rip Hunter’s time bubble back and forth in the time stream, “setting right what once went wrong.” Yep, you guessed it: Booster’s pretty much become Sam Becket in Quantum Leap. But you know what? I didn’t mind one bit, though it helps that I was was a big fan of the TV show. I enjoyed the premise, and as DC Universe second bananas go, Booster Gold was a good choice for the series’ protagonist, both tonally and in terms of his established backstory. It was nice to see time travel represented as a pretty messy business, one in which Booster’s time continuum “repairs” didn’t necessarily get things right the first time, and in some cases made things worse. This volume contained two story arcs: “Vicious Cycle” and “Reality Lost.” The first (written by Dixon) involved Booster Gold returning to the same event (Batman and Robin foiling a robbery by Killer Moth) multiple times, repeatedly attempting to “fix” time. The second touched on the first storyline and involved a mysterious knife artifact, taking Booster on an adventure in which he meets Leonardo DiVinci, Enemy Ace, The Elongated Man and… himself. All in all, it was a pretty fun read, with plenty of empty calories. Just right for a Sunday summer afternoon.

New Girl, Season 2

New Girl, Season 2 (5/26/13) FOX (2012-2013 **1/2) Series created by Elizabeth Meriweather, starring Zooey Deschanel, Jake M. Johnson, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone and Lamome Morris. 25 episodes originally aired 9/25/12 – 5/14/13. In this second season, the titular “new girl” Jess and her roommate Nick continue their inevitable dance into the bedroom. I’m afraid this show has become something of a disappointment. While there was some energy in the “will they or won’t they?” question that lingered through the season, it wasn’t enough to save it from a lot of other problems. And I think the number one problem this show has had since its beginning has been not knowing what to do with its characters. Take Lamorne Morris ‘s Winston, for example. The show’s writers have had two years to figure out how to make that character work, and they’ve tried what seems like a dozen approaches, but still, even in the very last episode of Season 2, it was painfully apparent that they still hadn’t figured it out. That problem was true to various extents with all the show’s characters. Will we continue watching in the fall? I don’t know for certain, but I anticipate an upcoming conversation with my wife on that very topic. And I know what side I’m going to be on.

Modern Family, Season 4

Modern Family, Season 4 (5/26/13) ABC (2012-2013 ***1/2) Series created by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, starring Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen. 24 episodes, originally aired 9/26/12 – 5/22/13. Jay Pritchett’s extended family continues to thrive, including a new addition. Highlights of this season included (a) Haley going to college, getting arrested and returning home; (b) Gloria giving birth to the newest Pritchett; and (c) Cameron and Claire becoming house-flippers. While the fourth season of Modern Family was consistently entertaining, it would seem the show has lost some of its magic, and this season was somewhat less fresh than seasons past. In particular, the characters have been so well-established that they’ve become a little predictable.  Still, Modern Family is easily one of the best shows on television and we’ll keep watching as long as they’ll have us.