Monday, August 19, 2013

"True Blood" Season 6: Unpacking the finale

Or, Did they just really kill him like that?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Season 6 of "True Blood" ended last night, and like the season overall it was a bizarre mix of highs and lows. I had serious problems with the show for the first quarter of the season, but then it seemed to get its act together for the middle portion before sinking to arguably series lows with the ridiculous hand-wringing over a not-even-tertiary character (I never want to hear the name Terry Bellefleur again; enough already). If I had to assign a grade to S6 overall I don't know where I would start. As for the finale, let's look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: Alcide got a haircut! Thank god, because that parched-ass wig that was stapled to his head at the episode's beginning was DREADFUL. He also no longer seems to be an asshole. And apparently he's now banging Sookie. I am not overly thrilled about that last development for two reasons. First, Alcide's relationship with Sookie means we'll probably never see Quinn from the books. And second, I was pushing for Sookie and Alcide after seasons 3 and 4. I don't really care about either one of them at this point. Throwing them together after the awkward six-month jump in this episode seemed like fan service, but service for fans from like three years ago. That's when the show was at its peak, so that may have very well been the idea.

The Bad: The resolution to the Warlow plotline. It became increasingly clear that the showrunner this season was not into that character and his build up, since as soon as SookieID'd him as Ben and his fairy/vamp nature was revealed, Warlow literally spent five episodes tied to a tombstone in fairy land. (The ultimate insult: he was wearing his shirt the entire time. Missed opportunity!) He went from terrifying fairy-slaughtering maniac to an alpha SNAG (sensitive new-age guy), and Sookie went from pissing her pants over him to creaming her shorts in literally like one episode. We know Sookie's taste in men is terrible, but that was ridiculous. So this episode, after he'd been off the table for literally half the season, he went right back to Sookie-beating bad guy until Fairy Grandpa Colonel Sanders came back from the hell dimension and held Warlow until Jason could stake him. And poof! That was it. THAT WAS IT?! A stake was all it took? After all that build up? I feel so bad for Rob Kazinksy, who must have been reading these scripts and thinking, "...the hell?" I personally volunteer to make him feel better. Call me, Rob! I also really liked you in "Pacific Rim"!

The Good: Vamp Camp is over, Billith is over, and the show seems deliberately to be refocusing on Bon Temps and the slutty weirdos who call it home. That is exactly what the series has to do right now - drilling down its focus.

The Bad: The six-month jump was a lazy attempt at pushing the reset button. Seriously, that is what you do when your writers don't know how to dig out of the hole they've burrowed for themselves. Of the new status quo, Sookie and Alcide is actually the least of my complaints. (We should at least get some quality shirtlessness out of it.) Bill has written a best-selling book about his time as Billith and the origins of Hep V in which he admits to multiple murders, but apparently he'll never see trial for any of it. I question the legality of that. But here's the worst: Sam is now the MAYOR of Bon Temps?! In six months? You have to be kidding. He's been wanted for murder, implicated in god knows how many crimes, and his own business has been the site of countless homicides. Who would vote for him? His annoying girlfriend is still around, and still pregnant. I am hopeful that that story arc will eventually pay off with shifters being publicly outed because, seriously, it's ridiculous at this point. I'm fine with Arlene taking over Merlotte's if it means I never have to see her whining over Terry again.

The Good: We ended the season with Sarah Newlin still alive. She gets my MVP award for this season - that catfight a few episodes back was one of the best sequences I've seen on this show in years. I would love for her to come back at some point for one last, brutal attempt to wipe out the vamps (and sympathizers) who have repeatedly screwed up her plans. She's a surprisingly effective Big Bad for this show. Thank you, Jesus!

The Bad: We ended the season with several new, unneeded characters. Willa worked as a plot point but I question if we need yet another baby vamp, given that Tara has been given basically nothing to do for the past two seasons. I'm ambivalent about Adilyn, Andy's daughter, who also was there to move along the plot. At least she's a fairy, which is still fairly rare. But Violet survived? Really? She had chaff written all over her from her first appearance in Vamp Camp. And yet, there is something beautifully karmic about Jason Stackhouse stuck in a one-way sexual relationship for eternity, never getting his chance for, um, release.

The Ugly: We never got the teased Jason/Eric sex dream after Eric gave Jason his blood last episode. OUTRAGE!

The Unfathomable: Was that the end of Eric? Seriously? He burns to death in the mountains of Europe after Warlow's fairy blood wears off? I cannot accept that. I can't. Last episode, when Eric flew away, it seemed like he was going on some kind of fateful mission - possibly even to kill himself. This episode we find out he just went to go read a book and sunbathe naked on a mountain. Hey, random. While we did get to see Alexander Skarsgard in his full glory, I just can't believe that one of the key characters on this show was snuffed out in such an idiotic fashion. And ultimately I don't believe he was. For one, the camera cut away before we saw him crumble to ash. And second, Pam was deliberately out looking for him. So I do think we'll see Eric again. But I don't think he'll be a regular next season. (I even wonder if that was their way of writing out Pam.) Ratings are down and there's no way they're going to keep affording all of those actors. ASkars likely has no shortage of offers.

The Deeply Uncomfortable: The scene between Tara and her mother - who have barely been seen this season, and I don't think have interacted since she was turned in Season 5 - was cringe-inducingly awkward. Intentionally, of course. But as I was watching it I found myself actually flinching. Thinking about it again - "Let me nourish you" - SHUDDER!

The Questionable: So the big cliffhanger and set up for next season is, basically, vampire zombies. The Hep V plague has led to roving packs of sick vampires going from town to town to feast on humans. The response to this, in Bon Temps at least, is an organized symbiotic relationship between healthy vamps and humans. Humans voluntarily feed healthy vamps, who then act as their protection from the sick vampires. There are a few logical problems with this. First, we saw Hep V kill vampires in hours at Vamp Camp. It wasn't more than a day or two that they went from infection to jelly. Now we're supposed to believe that these vampires have been roaming for months while infected? But beyond that, I don't understand why humans are so worried about sick vampires. They can't get inside their homes. Why don't they all just stay indoors at night for a month or two? Nobody goes out, vampires can't get in. Problem solved. But of course, the geniuses of Bon Temps have to have a town-wide party at night, at a public place, which of course attracts a horde of infected, slavering zombie vamps. Of course it does. I guess there's some comfort in knowing that Sam Merlotte is as good a mayor as he was a business owner.

Ultimately I think the Season 6 finale succeeded in getting the show back to its Bon Temps roots, but it did so at the expense of burning through quite a bit of character development and making some bizarre decisions. It was certainly better than the conclusion to the previous two seasons, and I'm eager to see what the new showrunner can do. Because my gut says that Season 7 will be the final bite for "True Blood."

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

REVIEW: The Amazing Acro-Cats at MuCCC (through 8/11)

Posted By on Wed, Aug 7, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Let's just get this out of the way: the Amazing Acro-Cats show, now at MuCCC through Sunday, August 11, is completely and utterly ridiculous. How could it not be? It's a dozen or so cats (plus two chickens, a trio of low-energy rats, and a woodchuck) performing a variety of stunts when and if they decide to do them. Because as any cat owner can tell you, cats will do as they please, when they please.

Samantha Martin, the woman behind the Acro-Cats, knows this, and she has constructed a charming hour-long show around the finicky nature of the animals she loves. It blends comedy, tricks, old-timey medicine-show salesmanship, education, and even a bit of music. So yes, it's all ridiculous, and among the most delightfully silly things I've ever seen. During the extended drum solo by Dakota, a member of the all-cat band The Rock Cats, I had to hold my head and wonder aloud, "How is any of this happening?"

Cat Bus
  • PHOTO BY ERIC REZSNYAK
  • The Acro-Cat bus, parked outside of MuCCC on Atlantic Avenue.

Martin argues that most of the tricks performed during the Acro-Cats show can be done by any cat. All you need to do is train them. She even demonstrated the ease of clicker training by teaching one of the adorable, teeny kittens up for adoption in the MuCCC foyer (steel yourself for that mewling fur gauntlet, parents of young children) how to jump through a hoop in a matter of minutes. And it's not all fun and games; Martin argues that training your cats to return to their carriers at the sound of a whistle can save precious time during an emergency.

But you want to see Acro-Cats for the stunts, not the advocacy. It's important to go in not expecting too much -- even Martin opens the tricks portion of the show with a section she refers to as "the lowering of the audience's expectations." One cat zips by on a skateboard. One climbs a pole. A few jump through hoops. But others perform more astonishing feats. One cat jumped from stool to stool even as they were being raised above the heads of Martin and her helper. Three took to an obstacle-festooned balance beam, weaving in and out, and up and over one another. Two walked around perched on top of balls. You get the idea. (I recommend sitting as close to the front of the house as possible, as I totally missed some of the floor tricks from the third row back.)

The tricks don't always go off without a hitch, like young Alley's inability to consistently weave through Martin's legs as she walked. But even when the talent doesn't stick with the program, Martin plays it off for laughs.

Martin's attitude is one of the strongest facets of the show (second, of course, to the "Aww Factor"). Nothing sounds more dreadful than a self-serious trained-cat show, but Martin is totally aware of the gonzo nature of what she's doing. She makes jokes about the realities of being a single woman with bushels of cats (she declined to disclose just how many felines are in her care), and regaled the audience with information about each of the stars of her show. After an hour you really got a sense of the personalities of several of the animal performers, including my favorite, Tuna, the diva of the Acro-Cats. Tuna has Martin trained to give her a treat every time she rings a service bell, has starred as a killer cat in a film, and is currently engaged in a fierce Twitter war with co-star Buggles (follow her at @Tunathecat). Tuna does not like to be touched by anyone. As Martin put it, "Tuna is only pretty on the outside." Tuna is my new spirit animal.

Tuna the Cat
  • PHOTO BY COURTNEY FAY
  • Tuna, star of the Acro-Cats and cowbell player for The Rock Cats, and her new No. 1 fan.

Tuna is also the manager and cowbell player of The Rock Cats, the world's only all-cat rock band. The group also includes Nue on keys, Dakota on drums, Sookie on chimes, Oz on guitar (Oz is the first male cat to join the show, because Martin says they don't work as hard), and Gregory Peck the chicken on tambourine and cymbal. Their performance was a highlight of the show.

Aside from Oz, who could barely be bothered to strum his guitar, the rest of the animals were engaged with their instruments. I don't think Nue ever stopped playing. After feeling sufficiently praised by the audience for her beauty (I'm serious!), Dakota got behind the drum kit. Both Tuna and Gregory Peck kept the beat consistently, until Gregory got bored and hopped off his stool for a while.

The band played two songs and then the show ended. Was it just a bunch of animals pawing at tiny instruments for treats? Yes. But it was hilarious to watch. Besides, the minute cats and a chicken figure out how to play "Musetta's Waltz," I am out of here. They've already figured out how to get us to feed them, shelter them, and clean up their messes. Who is the owner and who is the pet?

The Amazing Acro-Cats show continues at MuCCC (142 Atlantic Avenue) through Sunday, August 11. Show times are at 7 p.m. through Friday, August 9, and then at 1, 4, and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, August 10-11. Tickets cost $13-$18. For more information check circuscats.com or muccc.org.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

“America’s Next Top Model” Season 20, Episode 1: Bring on the boys

Posted By on Sat, Aug 3, 2013 at 11:52 AM

It has been nearly a year since Tyra Banks has been on our television screens. But she is never far from our hearts (I say that both ironically and unironically), and so I was excited to welcome her back Friday night for a whole new season of ridiculousness. And the two-hour season premiere did not disappoint on that front.

For its 10th anniversary season -- and 20th overall -- “Top Model” has cast girls AND guys for the first time ever. Based on all the photo shoots from the season, which have already been put up for the social-media vote, I knew that Season 20 was going to be a mess. I didn’t realize how low the production values on this show had gotten until the “Find a paper cutout of your face stuck to a fence” bit. Oh, Tyra. Has it really come to this?

It somehow took us two full hours to get down to our 16 semifinalists. (Spoiler: if you look at the released photo shoots you’ll see that two of them ditch the competition fairly early on -- I won’t say who but based on this episode they’re no great loss.) And what a motley crew it is.

I know I’ve said this before regarding other seasons, but for real: this is the least modelesque bunch I’ve ever seen on this show. Precious few of them look remotely like the types of models currently getting work in the fashion industry, even if you’re considering it from a strictly commercial perspective. On that note, having a contract with Guess as the main prize makes a hell of a lot more sense than many of the previous prize packages on this show -- CoverGirl and Italian Vogue seemed totally disparate to me.

So let’s break down these broken-down dolls:

Alexandra made an impression for two reasons: the parched thicket of hair seemingly slapped on her head and her oft-repeated sob story about coming from a well-to-do family that lost everything because of the economic collapse. Because of this, I will heretofore refer to her only as The Economy. I found The Economy grating from the get-go and her dubious modeling potential was highlighted by her porn-adjacent posing in the final photo shoot. The only way she makes it even halfway is if she turns out to be house bitch.

Mike is an ice-cream scooper who Tyra scouted into trying out for the show. Mike has probably the best body of all the guys (scooping ice cream apparently does amazing things for your core), but has absolutely no idea what to do with his face. He’s generically handsome and seems decent enough, but if the premiere was any indication he’s going to quickly pale in comparison to the very similar -- and more charismatic -- Jeremy.

Renee is a former beauty-pageant queen, which historically has been perceived as a negative by Tyra. I found her likable, but perhaps a bit of a prude. She’s going to get saddled with the dreaded “too commercial” label.

Cory is our effeminate gay contestant. He’s like the antithesis of my physical type, but he’s already delivering some droll commentary so he should be fun to watch. He’s got a bit of Efron in the face, and his wiry body type is considerably different from almost all the other guys. That and his sound bytes should keep him safe until right around F6.

Jourdan is as close as we’ve got to a ringer this season. She’s tall -- 6’1” -- and at times looks like a more conventionally pretty Leila from last season. Jourdan’s problem is that she apparently lacks any kind of self awareness. She may be gorgeous, but Johnny Wujak suggested that she has no idea what to do with her face or body on the shoots. And she said numerous face-palm-worthy things during the premiere, including a couple of borderline offensive comments to/about Jeremy. She seems a little full of herself but that might be nerves. And seriously: stunning face. Totally looks like a Guess girl.

Don DEFINITELY is full of himself, and it’s a huge turn off. Don’s best quality is his hypnotic eyes. His body is…fine. Fit but unremarkable. He’s handsome. His racial ambiguity is a plus. But everything else is a huge negative. I give it four episodes before he’s cheating on his girlfriend with someone in the house.

Jianabecame more endearing as the episode went along, but this girl does not read “model” to me at all. She’s pretty, but looks like an everyday, ordinary girl. I don’t get it.

Chris S. is a) tiny and b) reminded me powerfully of Corey Feldman circa 2006. Those are not compliments.

Chlea is like the hybridization of Tahlia and Angelea from Cycle 12, which, again, is not a compliment. She’s our plus-sized -- excuse me, “fiercely real” -- contestant but is another one who does not seem the least bit modelesque to me. Beyond that, I lost track of the number of times she mispronounced words and just overall came off as really, really dim. She says she wants to be a successful model so that she can have her own liquor and clothing lines. She really said that. She wants to be the female Diddy. Chlea, please, I beg of you: the world doesn’t need one Diddy. It certainly does not need a distaff version.

Jeremy became one of the breakout stars of the episode to me, but it had very little to do with his modeling potential. He’s giving us some serious beefcake, with an exaggerated swimmer’s build. But his face is very Iowa farmboy, and he has no idea what angles work for him. (And he has quite a few problematic areas, including his under-eye area.) That said, he is incredibly charming, and I suspect he will be wildly popular with the young ladies watching the show

Nina is trying to be the next C12 Allison, what with the kewpie-doll eyes and the “quirky” persona. But the problem with pushing the quirk angle so aggressively is that it looks like you’re trying too hard, and that’s the case with Nina. I want her to calm down a little. (And also to maybe eat a sandwich or three.) Still, Nina is definitely one of the stronger girls this season.

Phil is hilarious to me. He’s like the hipster messiah and seems to be treating this whole experience as a performance-art piece. I just can’t believe that he’s taking this seriously. Phil is totally my physical type, so I’m biased toward liking him. And he’s fun in his talking heads. But even saying that, the photos I’ve seen of him are laughably bad. Like C19 Jesse-level bad. Phil is adorable. Phil is not a model.

Bianca is also not a model, and I have no idea how she made the final cut. I kept wondering who that girl was who kept wandering into shots. It looked like she just came from the mall. In 1992. Blossom Russo called. She wants her everything back.

Chris H. is probably going to bring the crazy this season. I already find his Sam MerlotteLitebackstory difficult to swallow, and his borderline delusional behavior this episode -- “I don’t know why people don’t like me; all I’ve done is run around punching people in the nuts and then sulk when they tell me to stop” -- has me seriously questioning his mental stability. As far as his modeling potential, he has the ugly-pretty thing going on for him. His face is interesting -- it’s not remotely symmetrical. He reads very masculine in an effortless way. He has no idea how to pose his body, but he photographs better than he looks in video clips. (The skin is a problem.)

Kananiis this season’s young mother trying to save her baby from a lifetime of poverty by going on a modeling reality show. At what point do we as a nation chip in for a pamphlet titled, “Stable Alternative Careers for Aspiring Reality TV Stars”? Because REALLY. Anyway, Kanani is pretty, but she’s got some orthodontic issues to overcome. Believe it or not, she can actually look somewhat regal in some of the photos I’ve seen of her.

Marvin drove me up the wall with his sob story, which has to be the worst in “Top Model” history. You guys, brace yourself: his father was a janitor. THE. HORROR. What classist asshole in the editing bays thought this was going to fly with the average American viewer? Your father had a JOB. He was involved in your life. The fact that he cleaned toilets for a living is a source of shame to you? Get a grip, child. I was both offended for his dad and embarrassed that he had to watch that shit on TV. Marvin is cute and dorky, but as judge Kelly Cutrone pointed out, not necessarily dorky in a good way. He has a very large mouth that dominates his face, and based on the photos, he doesn’t know how to use it in photos. I think the show wants us to love him because he’s the plucky underdog. I found myself hating him by the end of the first episode.

So what do you think of this season’s hamsters? Will a guy take it or a girl? And why are people still trying out for this show anyway?

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