THE NEWSROOM’s Michael Gunn

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Boston University alum Michael Gunn held a showing of The Newsroom season two premiere tonight at the College of Communication and I was lucky enough to attend. Gunn, who networked his way into becoming a production assistant for the show’s pilot back in 2011, has since been promoted to staff writer, and is credited for his work in the show’s second season.

Although I had never seen The Newsroom – or Aaron Sorkin’s other masterpiece, The West Wing – I was amazed by how carefully each scene of the hour long drama was crafted in order to promote active watching. A sitcom like Modern Family will throw a joke at you and you’ll be expected to get it. Sorkin, however, likes to weed out his audience by making them think, and I was amazed to see that this drama was actually hysterical.

And so, I set off on my Sorkin quest. I’ll start with the easy, two seasons of The Newsroom. What will be difficult is the seven seasons of The West Wing – each with a network television drama count of 20+ episodes per season. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, friends. Oh yeah, and midterms are coming… I feel like there should be an HBO related meme for that to close this post:

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Sunday Funday

As a college student, Sunday’s are just too busy to cram into 24 hours. And to make matters worse, the television industry loves to put all my favorite dramas on the same night – adding up to three hours  (four if I choose to watch Masters of Sex).

That being said, I can’t possibly devote three to four hours to television on the day when I do a week’s worth of work, so I have to spread them out – all while avoiding spoilers around every corner of every social media outlet. And the only thing worse than a spoiler is a false spoiler. Example? Someone Instagrammed a picture of a grieving Michonne holding baby Judith. My initial thought? They killed off Rick! Needless to say, I had an extensive and intensive panic attack during the first thirty minutes of Sunday night’s episode, until I learned that Michonne was just really emotional about babies and the flu. Tangent aside, let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s dramas.

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On The Walking Dead, a deadly flu is sweeping through the prison – but its not as deadly as the zombies it produces. Cell Block D has quite the night of feasting, to say the least. While the group focus its efforts on putting down the walkers within the walls of the prison, a herd amasses outside the western wall, and the wire fence begins to give. In a game time decision, Rick chooses to lure the walkers away from the prison fences with his precious pigs, sacrificing them with a slight slit of their hamstrings.

Meanwhile, Carol is continuing to be the most well-thought out, developed character on the show, worthy of “cool aunt” status. After losing her own daughter in season two, she has made it her agenda to teach the youngsters how to defends themselves.

In other news, the writers are poking fun at themselves by having Michonne poke fun at Carl for taking his stupid sheriff’s hat off.

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On Homeland, Carrie is released from the mental facility and we get one last glimpse from her supervisor Abby, who is arguably the greatest guest star Homeland has ever had. There’s a lot of CIA jargon thrown around that all boils down to Carrie collapsing into the arms of a weeping Saul. In a 24-inspired twist, we learn that the two pals have been working together all along to make Carrie a double agent for the Venezuelan-Iranian terrorism operation. More stuff happened with Dana, but none worth mentioning after I thought her story was supposed to be over after coming to terms with her mother.

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Across the pond, Downton Abbey is on its game. Trouble is brewing downstairs with the addition of the new Lady’s Maid, Baxter, who serves as a new con buddy for the low-lying Thomas. Meanwhile, Daisy is forced to help Alfred for his cooking exam – a feat that strains on her heart strings, knowing that she will be helping him leave. However, her efforts come to fruition when he fails the test at the London Ritz – a scene that’s masterfully shot – and he comes crawling back to her. Mr. Bates seeks answers from Anna, but goes straight to the gossip ringleader herself, Mrs. Hughes, who sets things straight and reunites the battered couple.

Upstairs, it’s all business. Mary learns that Lord Gillingham has proposed to another woman, and it a moment of solitude she cracks –knowing that he was her last chance at happiness in a world without Matthew. The world is ending for Edith because Michael hasn’t written to her in a week. Like, honestly Edith – no one cares about you. Meanwhile, Rose is being a bimbo and jumps at the thought of Robert’s birthday party, where something bad is bound to happen. Either Robert himself will drop dead or his elderly mother, Violet the Countess Dowager, will suffer a heart attack during a loving toast to her son and the estate. While Dame Maggie Smith is truly the corner stone of this period drama and makes us laugh week after week, it is pivotal that we see a member of the old generation finally bid farewell, as the youths have suffered so much in this time – starting with Downton’s heir dying on the Titanic, to World War I taking the lives of men from all walks of life (including Daisy’s betrothed William), and ending with Sybil and Matthew passing long before their time.

Because I didn’t want this post to end on a sad note, here’s the best Dowager meme to grace the Internet:

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A Word on Last Week’s HOMELAND

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In a few hours, Homeland‘s fourth episode of the season will premiere on Showtime. However, the show has been receiving a lot of negative critical feedback as of late. While I understand that focusing on Dana for two whole episodes was unnecessary, the critics who wrote that the season’s third episode was painfully boring are gravely mistaken.

Writer Ross Jones of the British paper The Telegraph, had this to say:

“If nothing else, this season of Homeland will be remembered as a highly effective piece of immersive television. The two lead characters, Brody (Damien Lewis) and Carrie (Claire Danes), are now stuck staring at the same scenery with no obvious way out, devoid of hope and anaesthetised against their will – feelings all too familiar to anybody who made it through this episode.” (full article)

He hit all the points of why this episode, entitled “Tower of David,” is a masterpiece, only to rip it to shreds and write it off as boring.

I equate this episode to Breaking Bad‘s episode entitled “The Fly,” in which Walter attempts to kill a fly in his meth lab to ensure the purity of the product. Both episodes showcase a snapshot of the main characters’ lives, which so happens to be a low point for all of the characters in both shows. Even though Brody and Carrie don’t interact in this episode, we feel their bond become stronger and stronger as they both descend towards their rock bottom. Similarly, the character study in “The Fly” teaches Jesse the value of purity and we get a glimpse at Walter’s blooming obsession (almost addiction) with meth – something confirmed in the final moments of the series.

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Critics, however, loved what Vince Gilligan and the team did in “The Fly.” Time‘s writer James Poniewozik compared this episode to an episode of The Sopranos:

“After I watched the screener of “The Fly,” I tweeted that the episode was like “Breaking Bad’s ‘Pine Barrens,’ plus.” The “Pine Barrens” comparison, while a little facile, meant this: like The Sopranos’ classic, this was a set piece involving two characters in isolation, on a quest/hunt together. It was, first, incredibly well-directed for maximum tension. And the object of the hunt, like it was for Paulie and Christopher with The Russian, was not just important in itself but as a device to bring them into extremis and place their relationship under stress.” (full article)

So, by transitive property, “Tower of David” is Homelands “Pine Barrens,” right?

Enter the COVEN

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It’s witching hour, my friends. But stow away your brooms, return your wands, and hide your Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, because American Horror Story: Coven leaves all the fun-loved, preconceived notions of witchcraft at the gates.
In the third installment of Ryan Murphy’s twisted anthology series, our favorite actors return to modern day – ditching the dreadful Massachusetts insane asylum for the bustling streets of New Orleans.
This story opens on Taissa Farmiga as Zoe – just your average, sexually deprived teenage girl, whose kiss kills her boyfriend. In a flash, she’s sent on a train to a boarding school for witches – and don’t worry, they saved themselves by making a Harry Potter joke. Cordilia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) resides over the school and teaches the girls how to channel and control their powers.

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Zoe’s classmates provide some much needed comic relief to this dark drama. Emma Roberts essentially plays herself, an actress whose telekinetic super powers have been too grand for the limelight. Her cover story is that she’s in rehab for a heroine addiction – believable. Precious herself, Gabourey Sidibe, plays Queenie, the human voodoo doll. This smack-talking, street-smart girl wound up at the school after she plunged her arm into a frialator, burning her obscenely rude customer to blisters. The last houseguest is AHS alum Jamie Brewer, who played the sweet-loving Addie in season one. This season, the actress plays a clairvoyant child, who knows too much for her own good.

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The queen herself, Jessica Lange, has traded her nun garb for some more traditional clothes. Her name is Fiona Goode (a reference to Salem, no doubt) and she is “The Supreme.” On her quest for eternal life, Fiona decides to dig up the corpse of Madame LaLaurie, played by the terrifyingly wicked Kathy Bates. It seems like Lange has finally met her match. But the power struggle continues, and her name is Angela Bassett, who plays the voodoo, Marie Laveau. Much like Queenie, we learn that Laveau is a direct descendent of Tituba, the slave from Barbados who was one of the first accused witches in Salem.

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And then there’s Lily Rabe. As last season’s fan favorite, Sister Mary Eunice, the shy, obedient nun turned kinky, Devil-possessed entity, Rabe has gained quite the cult following. In this season, her character is no saner. Misty Day is a witch with the power of resurrection. After being burnt at the stake, Misty rises and makes it her first mission to bring back some alligators to kill their hunters. She derives her inspiration from Stevie Nicks, who she calls “the white witch.” I really would have loved to be a fly on the wall during Ryan Murphy’s chat with the singer’s manger…
Also returning this season is Evan Peters, who, along with Lange, has appeared in the most episodes of the anthology series. Instead of being the outcast he played in season one, he plays a frat brother named Kyle Spencer (who he probably would have gunned down as Tate). Kyle and Zoe meet at a party, as if Tate and Violet are meeting in another life, just as Kyle’s frat brothers are graphically raping Madison. Kyle breaks up the horrific scene and the brothers scramble back onto their bus, but not before Madison regains consciousness and uses her power to flip their bus, instantly killing seven of the nine passengers, including one of the star-crossed lovers, Kyle.

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Cue the episode entitled “Boy Parts,” in which the girls attach the best limbs to Kyle’s head, just as Misty comes along to turn Kyle into a monster worthy of Dr. Frankenstein.
Meanwhile, the seemingly innocent Cordilia Foxx learns that her hormones are not helping her fertility, so her husband urges her to turn to magic. In a steamy sex rite, involving black powder, multiple herbs, fire, and hatching snake eggs, the two attempt to conceive a baby. Will it work? Probably. Will there be consequences because they used magic? Definitely.

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While this season has planted some strong roots, I’m a little disappointed that the show has moved on to incorporate big names like Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, and Emma Roberts. Part of what has made AHS the show it has become is the no name actors making a niche for themselves. Where are Naomi Grossman and Chloë Sevigny, who played fan favorites Pepper and Shelley in Asylum? How about James Cromwell? His performance as Dr. Arthur Arden won him an Emmy and definitely should have won him a spot in Murphy’s script. Other notably absent series regulars are Zachary Quinto and Dylan McDermott, but Quinto’s run on Broadway and McDermott’s new role on CBS’s Hostages probably negated any hopes of their return to AHS. But with the set up this show has, there’s no reason why they can’t come back for the show’s fourth season. Or fifth. Or eleventh – it’s possible, right?

PRIVATE SCHOOL GIRL Trailer Released

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Exciting news, very exciting news. ABC1 has released the first trailer for Chris Lilley’s Private School Girl, a mini-series following Australia’s favorite daughter, Ja’mie King, as she ventures through her last months of high school at Hillford Grammar School. While this season will ditch the other Summer Heights High characters, Mr. G and Jonah, I’m sure Lilley will not disappoint. 

In honor of the trailer, here are some of my favorite Ja’mie moments from We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High.

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Long live the King… Ja’mie King. You can watch the trailer for Private School Girl here.

The Lies in HOMELAND and the Rape at DOWNTON ABBEY

Sunday night was chalk full of great television with Showtime’s Homeland returning to its prime and the UK’s Downton Abbey giving me the chills.

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First up is Homeland. While the plot still lingers around Dana, this season’s second episode created a sort of closure to the Brody family saga while Sargent Brody is off the map. Dana sneaks back into the loony house to see Leo, played by Sam Underwood, who had a brief stint on Showtime’s now-ended drama Dexter, as a serial killer much like the title character was in his youth. Anyway, Dana’s mother begins to scold her daughter when she comes home, but Morgan Saylor delivers a powerful monologue about how she has chosen life because of Leo and other declarative statements that makes Jessica Brody look at her life and look at her choices – most regrettably, her husband. Now that we know Dana is no longer suicidal, we can abandon the household and focus solely on the terrorist father, who has been absent for the first two episodes of the season.

Meanwhile, Carrie is out for blood. After being pinned as the CIA officer who had an affair with Sargent Brody and for knowing about the Langley bombing, Carrie seeks to crush the CIA from the inside-out by going straight to the media. However, Saul sends in the feds who detain her in a psychiatric correctional facility.

Peter Quinn witnesses Carrie’s trial and knows that what Saul is doing is wrong. While his character has been sketchy from his introduction last season, he has become my favorite character this season. He has to live with knowing he killed an innocent nine-year-old on his covert operation and he calls Saul out for not taking responsibility for his own mistake – Carrie.

Nazanin Boniadi joined the cast as the young, burka-wearing CIA analyst Fara Sherazi, who you may remember as Nora from How I Met Your Mother. Boniadi is terrific so far, as she takes on a group of corrupt bankers who lent money to the Iranian terrorist group responsible for the Langley Bombing. But it’s Peter Quinn who gets the last laugh, taunting one of the bankers as he exits a dinner party.

At the end of the episode, Carrie is being injected with a tranquilizer as Dana discovers her father prayer rug and assumes the position – even though she has no clue what she’s doing.

I’m looking forward to next weeks episode when we finally meet up with Brody and find out why he’s bald!

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This episode of Downton Abbey left me with a terrible taste in my mouth because of Joanne Froggatt’s heartbreaking performance – but that comes at the end.

Dozens of guests gather in Downton for a much needed house party to lift the family’s spirits. Among them is Lord Gillingham, a childhood acquaintance of Mary’s, who brings along his valet, Mr. Green, whose happy-go-lucky personality clicks with that of Anna’s, but Mr. Bates isn’t too keen on her flirtatious manner. Gillingham is played by Tom Cullen, a star of the independent film business.

Edith brings her man, publisher Michael Gregson, but her father doesn’t give him the time of day – that is, not until Gregson is able to win back a large sum of money Lord Grantham lost to the scheming Sampson in various poker games through his stay.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, Mrs. Padmore can’t keep up with the meal preparations, leading to an acute heart attack. Thankfully, Alfred, the aspiring cook he has eluded to be, is there to whip up the sauces for the lot of dinner guests.

At the same time, cousin Isabelle has fallen into a slump of depression, so the Dowager feels it her duty to occupy her time to comfort her and get her mind off her dead son, much like she feels the need to pair her granddaughter Mary up with the “glorified pirate,” Lord Gillingham.

While most of this is the wishy-washy drama we have come to love from Downton, we were all caught off guard by the violent beating scene that left the lovely Anna Bates a victim of rape by Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green. There has a great deal of backlash from the audience about the controversial scene being aired on British television, especially since the episode peaked at 9.9 million viewers. My stomach nearly flipped as the Grantham family and their servants enjoyed the vocal stylings of a famous Australian singer, drowning the screams of the Lady’s Maid.

So before you go to bed tonight, say a prayer for Anna Bates. And then, ask the Devil to take Mr. Green far, far away.

I Like MASTERS OF SEX

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I feel uncomfortable saying this, but I watched Masters of Sex and I ilked it. The new Showtime drama (really a dramedy, but who’s counting) follows the true story of Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) as they embark on a scientific escapade to discover what happens to the body during sex.

The duo truly shine in terms of acting, but the supporting cast is very hit or miss. Caitlin Fitzgerald plays Libby Masters, Dr. Masters wife, who blames herself for not providing her husband with a child. Fitzgerald’s performance is reminiscent of January Jones’ portrayal of Betty Draper in the first few episodes of Mad Men, so hopefully we can see her become a more dynamic character. The biggest casting mistake for this show is Nicholas D’Agosto playing Ethan Haas, a resident under Dr. Masters and the unrequited romantic interest of Virginia. Signing an actor whose film credits peak at Final Destination 5, Fired Up, and a reoccurring role on Heroes (where his very essential character disappeared from the plot) probably wasn’t the best decision. Thankfully Lizzy Caplan is able to counter some of his inexperience – especially in the powerful “slap” scene.

So far, I am impressed with the pilot. It has a very Mad Men feel to it, except instead of being ad men, they’re sex doctors. The second episode is entitled “Race to Space,” which indicates that the writers might try to intertwine the historical events that shaped the ‘50s and ‘60s, much like Mad Men played on JFK, MLK, and the like.

You can watch the full pilot of Masters of Sex for free here.