Monday, April 29, 2013

“Doctor Who” Season 7: “Journey to the Center of the TARDIS”

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Confession: I'm not sure what the hell happened in this weekend's episode. The time and space woo-woo going on was to be expected for an episode that centered on the TARDIS, I guess, but I'm still not certain on how the whole problem worked itself out. I keep waiting for a smarter version of me from another timeline to pop through a glowing crack in my wall and explain it. Just make sure you don't knock down the autographed Go Fug Yourself picture, Smart Alterna-Eric. And take out the recyclables with you.

The basic gist of the episode was that The Doctor, in an effort to broker peace -- or at least an understanding - between Clara and the TARDIS itself, put the ship into "safe mode" so that she could try to interact with it on a lower, more basic level. He picked the worst possible moment to do this, as the TARDIS flew past a giant salvage ship run by some unscrupulous brothers who illegally snap up whatever of value they come across in space. One magno beam later the TARDIS was on board the salvage ship, The Doctor was bickering with its crew, and Clara was stuck inside, her life jeopardized by a fuel leak - and whatever lurked inside the TARDIS itself.

I actually enjoyed the first chunk of the episode, where The Doctor more or less forced the salvage crew into helping him search for Clara, and Clara explored the twisting, turning corridors of the TARDIS. We've seen so little of the ship since the reboot, but here we got some interesting throwbacks: the bassinet from the episode in which we discovered River's origins, the swimming pool that has been mentioned several times, a telescope that looked an awful lot like the one Queen Victoria was building in the werewolf episode, and - most interestingly - the library. There Clara found "The History of the Time War," which she paged through, and found something very interesting: the actual name of The Doctor.

I'm going to pause here to bring up something that has become an important discussion point for this episode across the internet. It has been established that the TARDIS translates any language, except Gallifreyan, the language of the Time Lords. (Why would it need to translate the language of the people who built it?) It is highly unlikely that a history book on the Time War was written in Earth English. And yet, Clara was able to read it. Which strongly suggests that Clara is able to read Gallifreyan.

Carrying on. Clara's exploration of the TARDIS became more pressing after she encountered some ghoulish creature. The Doctor also encountered problems in the form of the salvage crew, which was just blatantly trying to steal parts of the TARDIS. The TARDIS did not like that, and went into high defense mode. Then more creepy monster things popped up. Poles started shooting out of walls, there was a room with a sun trapped in it, a beach that wasn't a beach, an android that wasn't an android, and finally the engine room, where The Doctor discovered that the TARDIS's heart had already exploded.

I won't even attempt to explain what happened to reset everything to the beginning of the episode. I think I get it, but it still makes my head hurt. The truly interesting thing to come out of it all was that The Doctor finally grilled Clara about her multiple deaths throughout time, and demanded to know if she was "a trick or a trap." Clara seemed genuinely confused and terrified by the whole thing, so The Doctor - I think quite stupidly, given all the evidence to the contrary - decided that it's fine, because she's "just Clara." Not that either of them remember having that conversation, because the end of the episode brought us back to the beginning, minus the salvage ship misadventure.

There were a few other points this episode that I think are worth discussing.

1. When the TARDIS first gets sucked into the salvage ship, the crew noted that there was a body trapped underneath the debris. Did we ever determine whose body that was? Was it The Doctor? Because he just appeared out of nowhere seconds later, fine as can be. And it wasn't Clara, because she was still inside the TARDIS.

2. Again, I don't think it was a coincidence that they showed us some of the things they showed us in the TARDIS. The bassinet is another reference to The Doctor's children/grandchildren, which again brings up the Susan stuff.

3. In the library, Clara knocks over a vial of Encyclopedia Gallifreyan. But that is after she reads the book about the Time War. It spills on her and we heard whispers. But I guess all of that is moot since it was reset along with the rest of the episode.

4. The Doctor was unhappy when Clara tried to talk to him about his true name. Please tell me that's not the big question that The Silence has been fussing about for the past two seasons. I will be sorely disappointed if that's the case.

5. This whole thing started because The Doctor wanted Clara to get along with the TARDIS, a plotline that keeps getting brought up. A commenter on my previous blog argued that this is the TARDIS just being jealous, because it is also a woman. I have to respectfully disagree there. The Doctor almost always has a female companion, and we've never seen the TARDIS react like this before. And certainly it would have more cause to be jealous of Rose - for whom The Doctor had obvious feelings - and even Martha and (early on) Amy, both of whom threw themselves at The Doctor. So it can't just be petty female jealousy. Something more is going on there.

6. When looking for an out-of-phase Clara, The Doctor made the salvage crews' sensors tune in for a human female. That did eventually produce Clara. However, there seemed to be a hesitation on the sensor's part. Maybe I read too much into that, but it sure didn't seem like a conclusive reading to me.

7. I think the salvage crew and their interpersonal dynamics were largely pointless, just an excuse for the plot. But I don't think it's a coincidence that the crew was struggling with issues of identity (the "android" not being what he thought he was, even though he truly believed it - just like Clara) and the dysfunctional nature of families.

8. When the one crew member climbed underneath the main control platform he touched something that shocked him, and he also heard voices. I recognized some of them as audio clips from what I believe are previous episodes - I'm pretty sure I caught Donna screaming, "We're in space!" Did anyone else catch any other snippets? Was this just a tip-off that time was leaking into the TARDIS? Or another clue to something else? Again, we're three episodes to the season finale and we have yet to get a "Big Bad" established...

NEXT: More Victorian fun with everyone's favorite lesbian reptilian detective, plus Diana Rigg will have a busy weekend guesting on both this and "Game of Thrones."

“Game of Thrones” Season 3, Episode 5: Hot Tub Time Machine

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Although last week's episode was awesome, I bemoaned its almost total lack of sexy times. This episode made up for it with not one but two hot-tub scenes, at least two cases of Grade-A man ass, and some equal-opportunity nudity for the lady lovers. It also set up plotlines for the next chunk of the season and gave us important insights into several characters. And their butts.

Though interestingly, one of this episode's lovers was remarkably well clothed. Jon Snow and the Wildling Bunch talked some more about attacking the Wall, with Orell and Jormund Giantsbane prying info out of Jon about the defenses of the Night's Watch. Jon mostly told the truth, but lied when he said that 1000 men are garrisoned at Castle Black. Orell and Jormund remain unconvinced, but Ygritte is all about Jon Snow. And she wanted to make sure that he was serious about that oath-breaking, as she led him into a picturesque cave with a medieval Jacuzzi and stripped down to nothing. Ygritte didn't have to persuade Jon too much to throw away his vow of chastity, and in short order she discovered that there's apparently one thing Jon DOES know. It involves his mouth. Filthy. I couldn't help but notice that we barely saw any of Kit Harrington in those scenes, even as Rose Leslie gave us the Full Ygritte. Just so we're keeping track, Jon is getting down with a hot lady in a natural hot spring, and his Watch mates are starving, freezing, and slaughtering one another in a glorified pig pen. Enjoy this moment, Jon, because it all goes to hell in short order. (And I guess they're completely ditching the Wall-breaking horn subplot from the book? Admittedly, it kind of went nowhere...)

Speaking of Stark-related happiness that turns to shit, King Robb's kingdom crumbled to dust in one episode. The Karstarks -- seeking vengeance for the deaths of their kin - broke into the cells holding the two young Lannister cousins and murdered them in cold blood. This put Robb in an uncomfortable position. His wife and his mother both encouraged him to hold Lord Karstark as a hostage, since Karstark's forces - which totaled half of his army - would surely leave should he be executed for his crimes. But Robb, like his father, is a noble, just man. And like his father, that screwed him over, as he beheaded Lord Karstark and had the rest of the band of murderers hanged. The remaining Karstarks instantly defected, leaving Robb's military might significantly diminished. His last hope in winning the war against the Lannisters? Taking Casterly Rock whilst the opposing forces are ensconced in King's Landing. But to do that, Robb needs the help of Lord Walder Frey -- the man whose daughter he was supposed to marry. Do you hear that drum in the distance? It sounds like it's saying, "Doom, doom, doom..."

Meanwhile, Jaime and Brienne ended up in Harrenhall, under the care of Lord Bolton. I believe. I will confess, at this point I find it difficult to keep track of who is in control of Harrenhall, and who is holding Jamie hostage this week. It's all blending together. I believe Bolton is the person currently in charge, and I think he's supposed to be one of Robb Stark's men. But I also believe he's clever enough to know that the Young Wolf is done, which is why he's being so careful with the potential golden goose that is Jaime. Qyburn, his deposed Maester, was less delicate with poor Mr. Lannister, as he dug around in the necrotic flesh of his arm stump to root out "the corruption." Later Jaime joined Brienne for a nice hot bath and we got some gratuitous back-end footage of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (not complaining). But more importantly, there was a really important moment for the two characters in which a wounded, exhausted Jaime confessed to Brienne precisely why he had to murder King Aerys. It was a great scene, and Coster-Waldau's Emmy nomination reel should pretty much be in the bag at this point.

The remainder of Jaime's family had a delightful episode (minus those teenaged cousins who got slaughtered), as Tyrion got a great scene with the Queen of Thorns (exclusive to the show, and basically just an excuse to give Diana Rigg more screentime - again, not complaining), and then Lord Tyrion played matchmaker for both Tyrion and Cersei. The dominos that have been stacking up around Sansa Stark for the past few weeks tumbled quite quickly, as Littlefinger got wind of the Tyrells' plans to marry Sansa off to Sir Loras. (This was ferreted out by one of Littlefinger's hunky male whores seducing Loras with a quickness - guess Loras has moved on from poor Renly.) Littlefinger then reported back to Cersei, even as he backed Sansa into a corner without her even realizing it in one of the more chilling displays of Aidan Gillen's affect-free acting we've seen yet. Tywin, being the practical man he is, came up with a plan that would cement his family's place of power and lock down the wild cards springing up everywhere: marry Cersei off to Loras, and marry Sansa off to Tyrion. Neither of his kids received that prospect warmly, but Tywin was out of fucks to give, blatantly telling his children that they are massive disappointments. A few notes: I don't recall the Cersei/Loras pairing being floated in the books, and Lena Headey was absolutely fantastic in that scene, practically squirming to keep Cersei from bursting into a cheshire grin while telling Tyrion about that vicious, vicious plot of hers.

In the River Lands Sansa's sister was learning yet more lessons about justice and those who deserve it. Sir Berric took on The Hound in a trial by combat. It was a robust fight scene, including Berric wielding a flaming sword that a friend of mine referred to as "a medieval lightsaber." Ultimately The Hound prevailed (although, I did not see The Hound's crippling fear of fire relayed in any significant way; it could have been anyone facing off against Berric in that scene), delivering Berric a fatal blow between his shoulder and neck. Except, it wasn't quite so fatal. After Berric fell, Thoros of Myr rushed to his side, whispered some words and - boom - Berric was back. The two of them relayed to Arya that this was in fact the sixth time that Thoros has revived Berric from the dead, using the power of the Lord of Light. (Interesting side note: in the books it is mentioned that Thoros was basically a nonbeliever, a drunken louse who nobody took seriously. Then suddenly he discovered that the powers he had been joking about having for years were actually quite real, right around the time Daenerys's dragons hatched. These things are all connected...)

Dany herself got a brief scene in which she met the self-elected leader of her new army, The Unsullied. His name is Grey Worm, as all Unsullied choose their own names based on vermin, to remind them of how low they are. Dany asked all of her soldiers to take new names that they could be proud of, and Grey Worm said that he likes his name - it is lucky, since it is the name he had when Dany made him a free man. If that whole fearless-warrior thing doesn't work out, Grey Worm has a big future ahead of him writing inspirational Facebook memes. Meanwhile, Sir Jorah compared notes with Baristan Selmy, sneakily trying to determine if Selmy knew that Jorah had been sending reports on Dany's progress back to Robert before his death. This is an interesting dynamic we never saw in the books, since neither one has been a narrator. And it establishes that Jorah knows that his past betrayals are going to come back to bite him in the ass.

Finally, we got several fascinating scenes with Stannis Baratheon on Dragonstone. Melisandre was nowhere to be seen, off on whatever mysterious errand she left to run last episode. Instead we finally got to meet Stannis's actual wife, Selyse, and his daughter, Shireen. In the novels Selyse is barely shown, and when she's described it's not flattering. She's supposed to be unattractive, cold, and borderline insufferable - Stannis is with her out of obligation. That doesn't seem to be the case here. I wouldn't call the scenes between this episode at all romantic, but it's clear that there is at least a mutual respect, and Selyse seems to genuinely care for him. I never got that sense in the books. Selyse is also, however, pretty clearly nuts, keeping all of her stillborn sons in jars in her bedroom, and referring to them by name. She is way, way in deep with the Lord of Light stuff and has no problem with the fact that her husband is schtupping the Red Priestess, because it was in service to their god. OK, then. Meanwhile, Shireen is potentially the more fascinating character here. The show seems to have merged Shireen and her fool, Patchface, into one character. That's interesting, because Patchface has a weird importance for such a minor character. Those songs he sings -- which Shireen was singing this episode -- sound like nonsense, but may actually be prophecies about the Others, etc. And Patchface himself is a possible candidate for another prophecy that has been bandied about in the books (although Davos is the more likely candidate). The show did not even attempt to explain what was going on with Shireen's face, so allow me: she has grayscale, a disease that turns a person's skin into, essentially, stone. It is often fatal, but in Shireen's case it seems to have been arrested (later in the books we see what happens when it progresses unchecked, and it is not pretty). Shireen is a sweet girl, and Stannis obviously loves her even as he is troubled by how to interact with her. After he tells her that Davos is a traitor, she goes to visit the Onion Knight in the cells and starts teaching him how to read. I have no idea how much time the show is going to spend with Selyse and Shireen, but I loved the scenes this episode. These are two terribly undeveloped characters in the books, and getting to see Stannis interact with them gave me a better understanding of Stannis than I've gotten after reading about him in five books.

NEXT: I have no idea, because HBO Go wouldn't work to show us the preview.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Results (Top 4 to...Top 4)

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 9:28 PM

So, OK. There was no blog of Wednesday night’s Top 4 performance episode because my machine did not tape a single second of it. I don’t know. So, sorry for that. But here’s the thing: if I was going to miss a week, this was the week to miss. Because anyone paying attention to the number of contestants and the number of weeks leading up to the finale knew that it would be pointless anyway.

Before we got to that, we had the usual results-night shenanigans. A group sing (to “This Girl is on Fire”; surprisingly good). Silly “personality” segments with the contestants. A Ford Fiesta bit that was all about stroking Ryan Seacrest’s ego, and which ended with a dig about how he doesn’t have an Emmy. Poor Ryan! I guess you’ll have to cry yourself to sleep at night on your PILES AND PILES OF MONEY. Also, you brought the Kardashian plague on the world, so I don’t care to hear it. It ended with a CGI’d scene in which there were four Ryan Seacrests. There you have it: This! Is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Results: Amber Holcomb was up first. On Wednesday night Amber sang “The Power of Love” by Celine Dion and “Macarthur Park” by Donna Summer. Jimmy Iovine called her “Power of Love” an A+, but Jimmy hated the song choice of “Macarthur Park” because he had no idea what it was about -- and neither did Amber. He expects that Amber will be in trouble.

Kree Harrison got blasted by the judges Wednesday. Jimmy agreed with Keith Urban, who felt that the mid-tempo blues number and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” both screwed Kree. Jimmy basically said that you will not win this show singing songs with stupid lyrics. Oh, I don’t know about that. I’d like to introduce you to a gentleman called Taylor Hicks and the song “Do I Make Your Proud?”

Then Stefano Langone from Season 10 was back again. This is the second time that Stefano has performed on the show after his stint, and given the fact that he has had basically no appreciable post-show success I find that baffling. In his interview Stefano was playing the horndog card, and also rocking the hipster glasses. Pick one overdone style box and run with it, Stefano. His prior single was an up-tempo party song that I thought fit his strengths better than his new one, a mid-tempo ballad. Stefano can obviously sing, and I believe he writes his own music. I’m not entirely sure why he’s not connecting with America, but there you have it. The song itself was fairly forgettable, but Stefano’s vocal got better as it went on.

More results: Candice Glover was critiqued for oversinging her first number, and Jimmy expressed concern over Candice protecting her voice. There was a bizarre on-stage fight between the judges and Jimmy on Wednesday, and then Jimmy completely forgot to critique Candice. Poor Candice. Jimmy did say that now is not the time for her back off; now is the time for her to move forward. And then Drake, whose song she sang Wednesday night, came out to talk with Candice. It was a very sweet moment.

And then…Lee DeWyze. God. I have been criticized on this blog for crapping on Lee here. I don’t know his life. I’m sure he is a lovely human being. But the fact remains that he is the poorest-performing winner of this show, and the man who won EASILY the worst season. So forgive me if I just don’t care to see or hear from him again. It brings back awful memories of Ellen Degeneres and Kara DioGuardi on the judging panel. Remember that? Lord. Lee performed his new single, “Silver Lining,” which was clearly influenced by the old-timey jangly renaissance that’s currently all over the radio. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll probably like it.

Angie Miller was the last to get her results, and she got glowing praise from the judges for both of her numbers. Jimmy said that he believed that Angie won the night hands down, with two great songs and two great performances.

And at 8:53 p.m. Ryan separated the girls into groups of two: Amber and Candice, Angie and Kree. At 8:58 p.m. Ryan came back to tell us which was the Bottom 2 -- it was Candice and Amber. Not overly surprising, given Angie’s great night and Kree’s terrible one, both of which would spur people to pick up the phone. And then Ryan announced exactly what we all knew was coming for weeks now: nobody was going home.

This was a foregone conclusion as soon as “Idol” announced May 16 as the finale date and the judges didn’t use The Save because -- frankly -- all of the eliminated contestants went in the order that the should have (except Lazaro). They had to build a non-elimination week into it somehow.

The twist is that the votes from Wednesday night AND the votes from next week will be combined, and that will determine who gets eliminated before Top 3. That’s interesting, and could potentially upset the natural order of things. Candice and Amber will both get bumps from their contingents after being in danger this week (Candice in particular should benefit from this), while Kree and Angie’s fans might just assume that they’re safe.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 5: Courtroom drama

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2013 at 12:34 AM

We were down to the big finale. Kind of.Sort of.If you accept the fact that we won’t find out the winner for two freaking weeks. I understand why the show changed its format after the Season 3 winner leak. I get why not crowning a queen until the reunion is critical in an age of social media (and the general gossipy nature of drag queens). But the show needs to tweak the way it presents its final challenge going forward, because watching the final three queens shoot a video that nobody will watch for a RuPaul song that’s literally two years old just isn’t all that exciting. We still had plenty of drama this episode thanks mostly to one finalist’s continued meltdown. But knowing that no winner would be chosen, or that any of the finalists would be eliminated, gave this episode a bit of a feeling of treading water.

As mentioned, the Final 3 -- Alaska, Jinkx Monsoon, and Roxxxy Andrews -- had to shoot a video for RuPaul’s song “The Beginning,” film a comedic (at least for two-thirds of them) courtroom intro, have a heart-to-Tic Tac with Ru, and then present their closing arguments for the win to the judges. They got coaching on how to best plead their cases from “mega lawyer” Gloria Allred and ultimately had to perform a three-way lipsynch.

The real story of the episode was the implosion of Roxxxy Andrews. Roxxxy has been getting the villain edit since Coco Montrese was eliminated a few weeks back. That’s standard operating procedure for a reality show -- the audience must always have someone to hate. I never found Roxxxy to be nearly as offensive as last season’s designated bitch, Phi Phi O’Hara, but the anti-Roxxxy vitriol has been ramping up online for the past few weeks. It’s disconcerting, especially since most people seem to be slamming Roxxxy for her perceived bullying of Jinkx. And of course most of those critics are, well, bullying Roxxxy.

I’m not trying to give Ms. Andrews a pass here. She herself has posted on social media multiple times taking responsibility for her increasingly negative comments, explaining that some of it had to do with out-of-context editing, some of it was caused by being completely exhausted by the end of the competition, and some of it was her lashing out because she knew that Jinkx was extremely stiff competition. So Roxxxy even acknowledges that her behavior was offputting in these last few episodes.

That continued in this sort-of finale, as Roxxxy insulted Jinkx on several occasions, threw side-eye at the “comedy queens” for their inability to do choreography (and hairography and, hilariously, “chiffonography”) for their music video, and then totally lost her shit when she was overshadowed in the courtroom acting sequence. After getting criticized by video director Mathu Anderson -- who looks like he is auditioning for a spot on "Duck Dynasty" -- Roxxxy launched into a workroom tirade about how Jinkx and Alaska turned the courtroom scenes into a joke, and how not everything has to be funny. Roxxxy is a professional! She takes drag very seriously! And she doesn’t appreciate those two hacks making fun of her artform!

This is the part where a rational person would point out that Roxxxy is a man who gets paid to put on clothes and make-up and pretend to be a woman. In the words of modern-day philosopher Alyssa Edwards: “It’s not personal. It’s drag.”

Ultimately Roxxxy performed best in the music video (what we saw of it, at least) and looked the most glamorous on the runway. Jinkx was a standout in the acting portion and quite endearing in the sit-down with Ru. (Jinkx apparently had an epiphany about the fact that her drag persona is a middle-aged lady is likely linked to the troubled relationship Jerrick had with his mother growing up).

But it was Alaska who I think quietly stole the show. She was an awkward mess in the dancing parts of the video, but she was really funny in the acting scenes. Beyond that, she amped up her usual trashed-celebutant look for the runway, delivered an impassioned final speech (I could have done without her trashing her competitors in it, but as Ru herself pointed out, that was part of the assignment -- and only Alaska did it), and I think she won the lip synch as well. Roxxxy weirdly gravitated toward the back of the stage, and Jinkx was solid. But Alaska really threw herself into it. I was impressed.

As predicted Ru did not make her final decision. That will wait until the reunion, and she asked viewers to vote for their pick on the “Drag Race” Facebook page, Twitter, and all manner of social media. Clever girl, that Ru.

I still see this as a two-horse race. Roxxxy has her supporters, and is a very polished queen. But I just don’t see her having any real shot after the exceedingly negative portrait painted of her the past few weeks. She’s tried to handle it as graciously as possible, but at this point I don’t see how she can recover enough before the reunion. Beyond that, I don’t think her performance over the course of the season could justify a win. She was strong in the beginning, faltered in the middle, and came back strong toward the end. Her strengths are her beauty and polish, and she’s a fairly decent performer, even in areas where she wouldn’t normally excel. Her attitude is a real problem, and I have a hard time believing that Ru -- who is obviously well aware of the backstage stuff at this point --would reward that kind of negativity. (I am also incredulous that Roxxxy and the show are pushing the “big girl” angle at this late date. Roxxxy could barely qualify as plus-sized when the show started, and I think she LOST weight during filming.)

That leaves just Jinkx and Alaska. Jinkx has gotten the underdog edit ever since she first stood out in the Snatch Game. Some of the other queens have taken issue with that edit, saying that Jinkx was not nearly the victim she was portrayed as on the show, and I would argue that the pity-poor-Jinkx edit has actually lost her some potential fans. But there’s no question that she is a very strong performer, a seasoned actor, singer, and comedian. She’s smart and has a real point of view. And she has grown tremendously over the course of the competition, especially in her visual presentation. But is her drag too limited? Does she rely too much on schtick to really break through into the mainstream?

Alaska came in with everything seemingly stacked against her. Like Detox, she was a known entity with huge expectations to meet (unlike Detox, Alaska actually met them). And she was repeatedly, and unfairly, compared to her partner, S4 winner Sharon Needles. But she got an interesting edit, the Little Drag Engine that Could. After an uninspiring start (remember her giving up in the first-episode photo challenge?) she started gaining traction, wisely detached herself from Rolaskatox, and repeatedly impressed with her razor-sharp wit and ability to adapt to whatever the challenge required. It's no fluke that she never appeared in the Bottom 2. She also managed to stay out of the drama almost completely, which was no easy feat with this bunch of bitches. Alaska’s weakness is that she still seems plagued by self doubt, and she also seems the type to wait for the spotlight to fall on her rather than snatch it outright. That’s not going to serve her well in her post-show career, win or lose.

What do you think? Who will be named America’s Next Drag Superstar in two weeks? Did you vote?

Next week: the season recap, with more flapping drag-queen wang, this week’s unaired “Untucked,” and the debut of that video that, seriously, nobody is going to watch. Sorry, Ru! You need to put out new music, dear.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Doctor Who" Season 7: "Hide"

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 1:58 PM

First, I did not blog on last week's episode, "Cold War." I just didn't have much to say about it. It was fine, I guess. The Ice Warrior was cool enough, and it was basically "Alien" on a nuclear sub. If you were looking for adventure, you got it. (Though the setting nor the time period never felt believable to me - not for a second did those actors read as Cold War-era Russians.) But it was basically a stand-alone episode, and just didn't resonate with me in any real way.

This week's episode, "Hide," did strike a few different chords. It was by no means a perfect episode. In fact, the ending was a giant mess. But I will always applaud an overly ambitious attempt over rote melodrama, and it gave us some new tidbits on the ongoing Clara mystery. Plus, it was by turns creepy and charming. So I'm giving it two sonic screwdrivers up.

The Doctor and Clara arrived at a giant manor in the English countryside in 1974. There the house's current owner, former professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott), and his empathic assistant, Emma, were trying to communicate with the Caliburn Ghast, a spirit that has reportedly haunted the property for centuries. The Doctor and Clara joined the pair on their ghost hunt, and after doing some time-span reconnaissance in the TARDIS, The Doctor concluded that the ghost was not in fact a ghost - it was actually a time traveler who had been knocked into a pocket universe, calling out over the centuries for someone to save her as that dimension rapidly dissolved in quantum nothingness. Oh, and something in the pocket universe was stalking her.

I won't deny that the episode was marred with problems. Some of the ghost-hunting sequences made no sense, especially given the ultimate explanation for the "haunting" (how did the stranded time traveler write "Help Me" on the wall of the foyer?). The Doctor broke protocol several times, including explicitly spoiling the future for at least two characters. And I personally hated the touchy-feely - and totally unnecessary - conclusion for the "Dark Tower"-esque monster in the pocket universe. I get it: love conquers all, blah blah blah. But I felt that weird coda weakened the episode. It also left for a disturbing cliffhanger. Are those terrifying creatures just going to hump it out in the second floor of the house for eternity? Will Dougray Scott charge them rent? How do you get monster splooge out of shag carpeting?

But there was a lot to like here. The atmosphere was gloriously 70's, and the ghost-hunting stuff referenced everything from "Scooby-Doo" (loved Emma's Velma Realness) to "Poltergeist." I love when the show offers scientific explanations for paranormal phenomenon, and I thought the whole time-traveler angle was interesting (if fraught with plot holes if you think about it too long). The research and rescue operations were appropriately gonzo (and echoed "The Impossible Planet" more than once). And the reason for the Doctor showing up at that very place, at that very moment, was smart and added to the season-long mystery surrounding Clara.

Because as Emma deduced about 3/4 of the way through the episode, the Doctor was not there for the ghost - he was there for her. The Doctor explained that Emma is one of the most renowned empaths (a kind of psychic who can read emotions, not minds) in history, and he wanted her to get a read on Clara. Emma, slightly offended, said that Clara is exactly who she appears to be: a normal girl, who is more scared than she lets on. That was clearly not the answer the Doctor was expecting, and possibly not the answer he wanted.

But the fact that he even asked to begin with underlines that The Doctor is still very much preoccupied with figuring out what Clara is, and that he does not trust her. I hastened to point out to my viewing group that Emma could have been lying to the Doctor about what she read off of Clara. She and Clara had bonded earlier in the episode, and Emma informed Clara not to trust The Doctor because "he has a sliver of ice deep in his heart." That is an accurate description of The Doctor, particularly Eleven, as was his line that, "Every monster needs a companion."

The Clara mystery also deepened vis-à-vis her dealings with the TARDIS. It's been established that the TARDIS does not like her - that it sometimes refuses to open its doors for her. That happened again this episode, and after The Doctor got stuck in the pocket dimension and Clara went to save him in the TARDIS (I did not understand how this worked, incidentally), it projected a hologram to explain to Clara why it could not go after him. Interestingly, the TARDIS hologram took the form of Clara herself because it searched its catalogue of millions of species/people for the one that Clara would "esteem the most." Of all the beings in the universe, the person Clara esteems the most is Clara?! No way. The show has established several defining qualities for Clara, and self-centered/egotistical is not one of them. My reading on that is that there was nothing for the TARDIS to read, because Clara doesn't exist. She's a cipher.

It dovetails nicely with this episode's focus on ghosts, and Clara's point to The Doctor that everyone and everything is ultimately like a ghost to him - he's seen the end of it all, so why do any of them matter? The Doctor had a very comforting Doctor answer to all that, but the point remains that Clara LITERALLY is a ghost. She's died twice so far, and the entire reason he sought her out as his new companion is because he is trying to figure out who/what/how she is. The entire second half of Season 7 can be seen as The Doctor ghost hunting Clara.

I'm not sure how all of this fits into my previous theory that Clara is somehow related to The Doctor's granddaughter, Susan. But with only a few more episodes to go, and the distinct lack of a Big Bad since the Great Intelligence popped up briefly in "The Snowmen" and "The Bells of Saint John," I suspect our main antagonist will end up being Clara herself.

Next week: "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS"! What will we find there? My guess is nougat.

“Game of Thrones” Season 3, Episode 4: That’s a pretty deep burn, Daenerys

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Welcome back to "Game of Thrones," or as I alternately call it, "Who Are We Burning Today?" I thought this week's episode rocked, including all of the best elements of the show (minus sex, boo). A lot happened so we're just going to jump right into it.

We'll start at the end, as we got a lengthy uninterrupted segment set in Slavers Bay, with Daenerys experiencing one of the most pivotal moments of her life as she traded one of her dragons for thousands of highly skilled slave warriors. We learned a few things here. First, that the budget for this season must have been significantly upped, because that whole sequence looked like something out of a big-budget film, not a show on HBO. From the soldiers to the special effects to Dany's wig, everything looked amazing. Second, the viewers and the slave masters discovered that Daenerys can speak fluent Valyrian, which means she understood every word - and insult - thrown at her the previous three episodes, and didn't so much as flinch. And third, the masters discovered that dragons are no man's slave. Dany did indeed trade her dragon for the Unsullied warriors, but a dragon does what it likes. After a quiet "Dracarys" from Dany, her biggest scaly baby torched the slave master head to heel and Dany led a revolt against all the slave masters of Astapor. After the bloody business Dany then freed all of her slave warriors, and asked which of these now-free men would willingly fight for her cause. They all agreed. So basically, Daenerys Taragryen just became fully awesome, and I suspect we'll all be seeing a lot of queen bitch Dany costumes come Halloween this year.

To underline how kickass the Astapor segment was, Dany and her army marching out the Astapor gates with dragons flying overhead provided the cliffhanger ending to the episode -- not the full-scale rebellion of the Night's Watch that went down at Craster's Keep. I was wondering how long they were going to drag out that arc, but they just got right down to it. The Watch, starving and freezing and shoveling pig shit in Craster's pens, finally had enough of their "host," and several members lost it. One killed Craster. Another killed poor Lord Commander Mormont. And that bullying asshole seems poised to go after Sam, who took the confusion as an opportunity to spirit away Gilly and her newborn son.

Several interesting developments occurred in King's Landing this episode, many of them unique to the show. First, we got a great conversation between Tyrion and Varys. The former wanted proof that his sister was trying to have him killed during the Battle of the Blackwater. The latter used the opportunity to explain to Tyrion how he became a eunuch, and also make a point about the importance of influence. I loved that entire scene -- Conleth Hill as Varys is one of this show's unsung acting heroes -- except the part where Varys opened the crate and revealed what was inside. That was a totally unnecessary and frankly goofy way to make his point. It suggested to me that the show thought it was being clever (it wasn't), or that the writers don't trust the audience (and they should).

Varys was a busy spider, next checking in with Roz about Littlefinger's plans for Sansa (and again bringing up Podrick's baffling success with the whores - is this becoming an actual plot point instead of a humorous side gag?), and then had an outstanding scene with Lady Olenna. Diana Rigg is so fantastic in that role; I desperately hope they find a way to keep her around longer than she appears in the books. And I also want to watch an hour-long crossover with "Downton Abbey" in which the Queen of Thorns and the Dowager Countess just sit in armchairs volleying droll insults. I'd pay-per-view that shit!

Lady Olenna's granddaughter is no slouch in the manipulation department, as Margaery Tyrell cemented her relationship with King Joffrey and the people of King's Landing in a well-written scene in the Great Sept of Baelor (again: looked stunning). Joffrey and Margaery have yet to be POV characters in the books, so this was entirely for the show, and I found it quite effective. Margaery is a fascinating character, full of ambition and teeming with guile, but also smart enough to not be obvious about it (*cough*Cersei*cough*). She's already got Joffrey eating out of her hand, and they're not even married. We never really got that sense in the books. Her follow-up scene with Sansa was also lovely, and showcased Natalie Dormer's sweeter side. They could not have cast a better actress for that role.

Wrapping up the King's Landing subplots, Cersei had an uncomfortable father/daughter sequence with Tywin in which she expressed her concerns about the Tyrells' manipulations, and challenged her father on what she perceived to be his de facto sexism against her. Tywin summed up Cersei's personal failings thusly: his problem with her is not that she's a woman, it's that she's not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. That is precisely how I think we're supposed to view Cersei. After she becomes a narrator in Book 4 we get to better understand her, and her overconfidence in her intelligence is absolutely her fatal flaw as a character. (And boy, does it ever get her in trouble from here on out...)

Speaking of the Lannisters, Jaime wasn't faring too well after getting his hand chopped off at the end of last episode. I think the show has done a poor job explaining to viewers how big a deal this is for Jaime from an identity perspective. He does mention this episode that it was his sword hand, but frankly he didn't fare too poorly in his brief escape attempt. He was simply way outnumbered, and also, you know, dying. The quiet scenes between Jaime and Brienne nicely fortified their growing mutual respect, and I find myself wishing there were more scenes for this particular storyline.

The episode also featured brief snippets of Bran dreaming about climbing a tree to talk to the Three-Eyed Crow, but failing due to an imaginary fight with his mother; Theon Greyjoy once again showing us what a total idiot he is by nattering along mindlessly as his "savior" (this has to be the Bastard of Bolton, right?) returned him to captivity; and Arya getting a tour of the Brotherhood Without Banners' cave hideout, and an introduction to their leader, Beric Dondarrion. Next episode he'll fight the Hound in a trial by combat, and we'll all probably learn a little bit more about Thoros of Myr and his fire god. We'll also check in with Jon Snow and the wildlings north of the Wall, and continue to watch Robb Stark's war campaign crumble like the charred remains of his homestead. Good times!

Friday, April 19, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Results (Top 5 to Top 4)

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 at 12:07 AM

The first 8 minutes of the show did not tape. So I’m going to assume that the judges wasted time by walking to their seats, Ryan Secrest wasted time by giving us a bunch of useless information, the Top 5 did a group song, and, oh, I don’t know, Lazaro galloped across the stage on a sparkling, glitter-covered unicorn while making excuses for why he was unfairly eliminated last week.

I tuned in with the start of the results. Angie was first, and Jimmy Iovine loved her Pretenders song (I was conflicted about it), but he wasn’t blown away by her Beyonce number (I thought it was terrific). Nikki Minaj agreed with me and said that Jimmy is full of shit. Next it was Candice’s turn. Jimmy remained lukewarm about “Straight Up,” but loved her diva song. Ryan baited Randy Jackson, asking if he’d heard from original co-judge Paula Abdul about her thoughts on Candice’s version of her signature song. Randy couldn’t even convince himself as he did this goofy bit saying he couldn’t reach her, but of course Paula was there, dressed like a sofa, but still looking gorgeous. She babbled a bit to Candice, clapped like a seal (good ol’ Paula!), and eventually took a judge’s chair in between Nikki and Mariah Carey (both of them were very cute with Paula).

After the commercial, Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken came out and talked about all of the humanitarian work he has done in the past decade. That’s great, but looking at a decade’s worth of footage of Clay, I had to wonder: How did none of his gays take him aside at some point and discuss the hair? The clothes? The whole look? Mind boggling. But Clay looks good now, if not a bit…tightened up. He sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Clay has a great Broadway-style voice, but I question how he would fare on this show if he was a contestant nowadays. (Speaking of which, when will we get the inevitable all-stars season?)

Janelle was up for feedback next. Jimmy and I agreed that her first number was sleepy, and he thought she struck out with the Dolly Parton song. But Dolly herself -- DOLLY! -- wrote a nice, funny note to Janelle, and I just love her. Please have her be a judge on this show…

Amber was up next, and Jimmy thought that she took a huge risk singing both Mariah and Barbra Streisand, and that she executed both songs beautifully. As for Kree, I didn’t feel like she had a solid night at all, and Jimmy agreed with me. He thought she made the wrong song choices, and I totally agree. And typically Kree makes brilliant song choices. So I don’t know what was going on there.

And then, Fantasia! The Season 3 winner. The package actually covered all three of the “Three Divas” of S3, Fanny, Jennifer Hudson, and LaToya London. LaToya is trying to relaunch her career, and I hope it happens for her, because she is great. I actually saw her in “The Color of Purple” when it came to Rochester on tour. Fantasia sang her new family, “Lose to Win.” Fantasia looked amazing, and I’ve always loved her voice, so I thought she sounded really good. She certainly was FEELING the performance. The judges were obviously all about it -- Nicki was giving her backsnaps! Yes! I love Tasia.

Then, finally, results: Candice, Angie, and Amber were safe -- even Amber looked totally shocked at that one. That left Kree and Janelle as the B2. First time Kree has EVER been in danger, and that made my Spidey Sense tingle. But it was Janelle who rightfully received the lowest number of votes. For her sing for the Save she did her great version of “Keep Me Hangin’ On.” Smart song choice, and one that really showcases all the best qualities of her voice -- although she sounded better on it the first time around.

As they went to the judges for the decision, Janelle was actually shaking her head no and telling the judges that it was OK. She knew. And Randy said that it was two judges yes, two judges no. I am curious to know who was on which side of that argument. Janelle acquitted herself better in the Top 10 than I assumed she would after her DISASTROUS semi-final performances. Janelle is a performer and she’s very personable. I don’t think she is at the same level of the country singers we’ve had on this show recently. But there’s no denying her charisma. I’ll be curious to see what happens to her.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"American Idol" 2013: Songs from the Year they Were Born/Diva Songs

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Well, we're definitely going to have a female winner for the first time in six seasons. For the first time in show history the Final 5 is entirely one gender, and it is also entirely female. You don't have to be a Stonemason to work out that conspiracy. Still, there is a LOT of talent in the competition this year, so nobody is begrudgingly any of these ladies their continued presence on the show.

That said, I was not nearly as enamored of many of the performances Wednesday as the judges seemed to be. Nothing was terrible, but a few of the numbers were over praised (in my opinion), which has been the case pretty much the entire season long. Given the massive slide in ratings and the fact that this panel just isn't working, expect a huge shake-up before next season starts.

We had two themes again: Songs from the year the contestants were born, and diva songs.

Candice Glover was born in 1989, and she did "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul. That is...unexpected. She totally transformed the song into a slow r'n'b/jazz jam with a very cool world-beat vibe. As has become typical for Candice, she kept getting better as the song went on. She had some great little runs and vocal flourishes, but it never felt oversung. Keith Urban said he never realized how good that song is until Candice sang it. That's because the original is pretty cheesy; seriously, I listened to some Paula on Spotify last week and it was not good. I couldn't even make it through "Rush Rush." Nikki Minaj and her breast window liked how Candice put her own spin on the song. Randy Jackson is loving how cool and confident Candice is on stage now - she has improved tremendously on her stage presence since the semis. Mariah Carey said the song choice was genius. Apparently it was Janelle's idea. Then it certainly wasn't genius... Interestingly, Jimmy Iovine thought it was a poor song for Candice because the range was too narrow for Candice's big voice.

Janelle Arthur was also born in 1989 and she picked Vince Gill's "When I Call Your Name." This was another one of those songs that Janelle obviously loves, but which is not a good fit for her voice. I'm not sure why she's so obsessed with male country songs (last week it was Garth, this week it's Vince), but the low parts were too low and the high parts were shrill. And the song is a total snoozer - I can see why it put her to sleep when she was a baby. Janelle was emoting throughout, so that's good. But the vocal was not strong. Nikki wants Janelle to go back to her guitar (um, she WAS with her guitar), but she thought the vocal was pretty. Randy thought the song "brought Janelle back." Mariah wants Janelle to keep her confidence. Keith, god bless him, spoke sense. He said that the song is pure emotion when Vince sings it, but he didn't feel anything from Janelle. He said she got all the notes right - um, no she didn't.

Kree Harrison was born in 1990; she picked "She Talked to Angels" by the Black Crows. This was a somewhat unexpected song choice for Kree, and she sounded great on it. In fact I think it's the best she's sounded in a few weeks (not that Kree ever really sounds bad). The weird thing was that Kree seemed to lose a bit of steam as the number went on. Still, it was very good. Randy picked up on the natural soulfulness in Kree's voice. Mariah wisely picked up on the fact that Kree seemed like she was too focused on the performing of this song, and that she didn't get lost in it - but Mariah loved it, too. Nikki put on her British accent to say that she thought it was the best number of the night up to that part. She also thought it was the first current-sounding song of the evening. Then she and Mariah got in a little wig-yanking. It is surprising how well those two have gotten along since the show went live.

Angie Miller was born on 1994, and she was a chunky baby. She did "I'll Stand By You" by The Pretenders. There was a moment of awkward hesitation before Angie dedicated the song to "my home, Boston." I am conflicted about that. Angie performed this while playing the piano. I love this song and I like Angie, but I do not think this was a great fit. Her voice is so bright and thin that I don't think it naturally went together with a Chrissie Hynde song. In fact there were parts that I thought sounded really awkward, while other sections actually worked quite well. All the judges except Nikki gave her a standing ovation. Hm. Praise all around, and all of the judges giving "shout outs" to Boston. I'll concede that I may be the outlier by not loving that.

Amber Holcomb was also born in 1994, and she did Mariah Carey's cover of "Without You." Amber played with the rhythm/tempo here a bit, and I was OK with it. This is a huge song with a massive range and Amber handled it all well. A few slightly flat sections, but there were some tricky key changes in there. Another standing O from all the judges except Nicki. Keith loves the way that Amber opens up the notes at the end. Nicki thought Amber did not compare positively to Mariah's version in the low section; she just seemed off and scared. Randy thought Amber did a damn good job. Mariah said, "Vote for Amber!" She also really liked the changes that Amber made to the melody, and how she took the song higher at the end.

ROUND 2: Diva Songs!

Candice chose "When You Believe" by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. This is not a great song, but it is a BIG song, and according to Jimmy, that's what Candice needed for her second act. When she hit the key change and went into the final chorus there was a great "Idol" moment for her. A standing ovation from all FOUR judges. Nicki said, "That is how you do a Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston song." And she appreciated the bigger message of the song, which Candice delivered. Mariah said that she was trying to avoid breaking down into tears, because she was flashing back to the moments spent with Whitney. I've given Mariah a lot of shit during her judging tenure, but I found her quite endearing during that segment, and for most of the night in general.

Janelle named Dolly Parton as her icon and picked "Dumb Blonde." I'm a huge Dolly fan, but if I had to pick a Dolly diva song, it wouldn't be that one. The vocal was better than the first number and had some fire to it, but the song just isn't particularly catchy. And Janelle did her normal walk-around-the-stage/interact-with-the-crowd bit. The last note was not good. Randy thought it was a fun performance number, but vocally didn't do much for her. Keith was right with me about that song not being high in the Dolly Parton Catalogue. Nicki point blank told Janelle that she's in danger of going home tomorrow, but that she thinks Janelle is lovable and can go far in the real world. I think Janelle is actually one of the least-talented country performers we've had on the show lately.

Kree picked Celine Dion as her icon, which was surprising. She did "Have You Ever Been in Love," which is not a song I'm familiar with. Kree is normally very savvy with her song picks, but this was not great. She still sang impressively, but this did not feel comfortable for her. Mariah thought it was a very smart choice, and liked the key for Kree. She thought the song showed Kree's versatility, since this was distinctly un-Kree. Nicki argued that Kree is not actually country; she's "worldly," she's "iconic." She's Adele, she's Celine, it doesn't matter. The judges all loved it. Again, I will concede to being an outlier on this one. But to me it just felt forced and uncomfortable.

Angie did Beyonce's "Halo." I expected this to be a mess, but I actually ended up liking it. She was definitely channeling Beyonce too much in the vocal, but the singing was still strong, demonstrating great range, control, and Angie looked like a star up there. Standing O from all the judges except Mariah. Keith called it "definitely Top 3." Nicki said that Angie is back, and did Beyonce proud. Randy did his tiresome "in it to win it" line. Mariah loved the clarity in the voice, and thinks Angie is here to stay. I think she's definitely F3 at this point.

Amber thrilled my gay ass by doing Barbra Streisand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" First, she looked STUNNING. This was a very old-fashioned, grown-up set up for Amber, but she pulled it off. There were a few moments where the energy dipped, but as soon as Amber shot into her upper register she snatched the song right back. Her vocal control is pretty spectacular, and that was lovely. Standing O from all four judges. Nicki called it "simply perfection." Randy said that it was the most difficult song of the season, and she sang the hell out of it. He called her "young Rihanna with a giant voice." Comparing Amber to Rihanna is an insult to Amber. Mariah thanked her for the performance, and thinks Amber is a massive star in the making.

Recap: Candice was cool and funky in the first number and full-on powerhouse diva in the second; Janelle was easily the weakest of the night; Kree had an odd night but sounded better in the replay than I thought she would; I still didn't care for Angie's vote-baiting first number but responded strongly to her diva song; Amber delivered two giant, complicated songs extremely well.

Prediction: Janelle is almost certainly gone. The only question is who joins her in B2. Candice is the frontrunner at this point and had another good night, and Angie really surged. Kree has been a quiet, consistent presence in the Top 3, but I really felt like she was off with her song choices this week. And of course Amber has continually struggled with votes.

The bottom line is that the Save HAS to be used this week or next. If Janelle's in the bottom this week, they won't use it. If anybody but Janelle is set to go home, the judges will deploy it. My gut says Amber will get the "shock" elimination, and then she'll be saved for another week or two.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"RuPaul's Drag Race" Season 5: Bitter, sweet symphony

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 at 12:29 AM

Confession: I spoiled myself on the results of tonight’s episode earlier this afternoon after some idiot posted the first 10 minutes of NEXT week’s episode right on the Logo website. I watched it and knew who won tonight’s challenge, who was in the Bottom 2, and who went home. But even if I hadn’t gotten the sneak peek I wouldn’t have been surprised by the outcome. This episode played out exactly as it should have, with the most deserving Final 3 and a fourth-place finisher who arguably shouldn’t have even made it this far.

The Final 4 -- Alaska, Detox, Jinkx Monsoon, and Roxxxy Andrews -- had a “bitch fest” mini-challenge in which they had to make drag puppets of one of their competitors and read them for filth. It was literally the exact same challenge from S4, and I kept waiting for Logo to pimp its bizarre new show “Felt,” in which actual couples-therapy sessions are reenacted via puppets. Alaska won this handily (see what I did there?) with her genuinely funny jabs at Roxxxy, while Roxxxy veered into cruelty with her take on Jinkx. It set the tone for a generally sour Roxxxy for the entire night. Guess with Coco gone the show needed a new villain -- although Roxxxy’s been getting increasingly nasty over the past few weeks, especially when it comes to Jinkx.

While Roxxxy was soaking in bitterness, all four of the queens were asked to embrace sweetness for the main challenge, the Sugar Ball. This was again an exact replica of the Final 4 episode from seasons 3 and 4, with the queens tasked with coming up with three looks based around themes. The first look had to be “Super Sweet 16,” so young and bubbly; the second was a take on Executive Realness (I LIVE for Executive Realness and clapped like a monkey when RuPaul said it); the third was Candy Couture. Although the whole challenge ostensibly had a candy theme, only Roxxxy incorporated candy into each of her looks. I found that extremely weird. What exactly is the challenge in walking out in off-the-rack clothing? How does that test anything besides who has the bigger budget?

Here’s how each queen performed, top to bottom (rankings, I mean; I don’t know their lives):

Alaska won the challenge, and I’m frankly not sure how. Her Candy Couture outfit was fantastic, no doubt, and that was even after clumps of the cotton-candy base fell off in the work room. But the other two looks were beyond plain. Her teen look was a basic black prom dress with a cheap bow in her wig -- standard Alaska at this point -- the business outfit was a basic black, fitted suit with some well-deployed props. She sold the looks, I guess, but Alaska has rarely wowed us on the runway this season, and this episode was no exception. That said, I really like her and I’m glad she made F3. I just don’t think she should have won this challenge. The nod should have gone to…

Roxxxy Andrews, who really embraced this challenge and clearly brought a lot of thought and attention to detail to her looks. Some of the judges (including guest judge Bob Mackie!) found her teen outfit to be too risqué, but I didn’t see it. Roxxxy is a naturally sexy queen and that’s going to translate into the outfit. Also, have these people seen 16-year-olds lately? I’m just saying. Roxxxy’s mannerisms were very spazzy teen, and I appreciated the marshmallow details. The business outfit was her weakness, as she once again relied on the tear-away reveal and the outfit underneath wasn’t even remotely professional looking. Still, the gummy bear details were a nice touch. Her rainbow-licorice couture dress was frankly stunning and required a LOT of work on her part, and showed a level of craftsmanship that none of the other queens displayed. She was dinged for the dress not obviously reading as candy, but…is that not the point? Aren’t they supposed to elevate the unconventional materials? Perhaps I’m confusing it with “Project Runway.” Anyway, Roxxxy should have won based on the work presented and overall polish, but I think the producers wanted the F3 queens to all have two wins going into the finale.

Jinkx Monsoon has been getting the underdog edit for weeks now, and poor thing really needed it this episode. As the pageant girls had been saying for a while, Jinkx has been very lucky that there were precious few design-based challenges this season. And that’s true. Jinkx is not a seamstress, and her personal wardrobe is limited and very schticky. That works with the character she has developed, but it’s a tough sell for this kind of challenge. Jinkx weirdly seemed fixated on incorporating a Christmas element to her couture look -- I’m guessing this was because of the candy canes she was using -- but it overshadowed the candy itself. She also wrestled with her narcolepsy as she apparently wrecked the massive hoop skirt she’d been embellishing because she could barely stay conscious while working on it. The end result was Jinkx coming out in a red-and-white reindeer-esque outfit with very little candy, which judge Santino Rice objected to because he wanted to see candy glued all over everything. We know, Santino. We watched you on “Runway.” You love glue! Jinkx’s other looks were very throwback and kitschy, which is perfectly Jinkx, but not in the spirit of the challenge. She was forced to lipsynch for her life to a kooky song that was very much in her wheelhouse, and which she nailed. The fact that THAT song was used for this episode, when Jinkx just HAPPENED to be in trouble, is awfully coincidental to me. Also coincidental that the other three queens named her as the weakest on the runway, when two episodes ago they all considered her their stiffest competition. They saw an opportunity to push a major threat off a cliff, and they tried their damnedest to give her the heave-ho.

But getting her wig snatched wasDetox, who got her third B2 appearance for her output, which was really…not great. She nailed the 80’s power-bitch for Executive Realness, and was obviously going for a “Grease 2” thing for the teen drag. But her couture creation did not read as candy at all, it was ugly, and she could barely walk in it. Not a great strategy when you have literally a 50 percent chance of being in the Bottom 2, performing for your continued presence in this competition. But truly, Detox had very little shot of making it to the finale. RuPaul told her point blank in the work room that the judges had certain expectations of Detox that “have not been met.” Boy, howdy. That’s Detox’s run on this show in a nutshell.

I was thinking about it earlier, and Detox even making Final 6 is a little unfair, much less Final 4. She simply has not turned in a level of work that justifies making it this far -- at least, not that the viewer has seen. Even in the one challenge she won, the kid’s show, other queens made more of an impression -- I can’t even remember what her chicken character did/said. And so much of Detox’s output this season in general has simply been unmemorable. I suspect that six months from now I’ll look back fondly on Jinkx, Alaska, Roxxxy, Alyssa, and even Ivy. I will still seethe with frustration over Coco and even Serena Cha-Cha. But Detox? She was just there. Not bad. Not unlikable. But she simply did not break through, and that makes no sense.

Because on paper, Detox has what this show is looking for: Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent. But for whatever reason none of that was connecting here. Her talking heads were occasionally amusing, but her performances were almost always flat and her runways were routinely slightly off. Her lipsynch, which she is so proud of, was a big bag of nothing. The lip wiggle was old the first time she deployed it and BEYOND tired after the third time out.

I’ve read theories that suggest that Detox was holding back because of her friendship with Roxxxy (doubt it), that Detox didn’t really want the win, just the exposure (certainly plausible), that she was overwhelmed with pre-show expectations (possibly, but the same could be said of Alaska), and that Detox simply isn’t a competitive person and thus a poor fit for a reality-television competition. I suspect that last one is closest to the truth. Detox has a fuck-you attitude; we saw it on the show several times (“I’m over it” is her catchphrase for a reason). I suspect it’s very difficult to have that approach to life and yet operate in a situation where your success depends entirely on what other people think of you.

I think Detox is a great drag queen. I bet she’d be fun to have drinks with. But she was not a great contestant for this show, and I suspect that she and the producers were as surprised to discover that as the rest of us. Because she definitely went in as a pre-show favorite. It just didn’t click. At least, from what we saw. Detox has voiced issues with her edit on social networking. I'm curious to see how she handles herself at the reunion, which I assume is taping next week.

Next: the Final 3, Judge RuPaul, and Gloria Allred! Seek legal representation now.

Monday, April 15, 2013

"Game of Thrones" Season 3, Episode 3: Let's give the boy a hand

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:01 AM

Welcome back to Westeros! In this week's episode a boy became a man (several times over), a queen haggled for slaves, and Jaime Lannister's personal Applause-o-Meter took a permanent hit. Beware: here there be spoilers.

Let's start with Riverrun, a completely new location for the show, and ancestral home of Catelyn Stark. The show fast-forwarded through a lot of set-up for this new locale (Cat's father was already dead by the time she arrived; in the books they had an opportunity for closure), and just threw viewers into the mix without so much as an introduction to the new players. Those would be Cat's ass-kicking uncle, Brynden "Blackfish" Tully, and I assume the boastful ass was Edmure Tully, Cat's brother. I don't recall Edmure being such an idiot in the books. Not exactly the most competent soldier, perhaps, but here he seems like a willful douche. Not much else happened for the Riverrun crew except for a nice scene with Robb's wife, Talisa, tending to young Lannister prisoners of war. Talisa -- who doesn't exist in the books, but serves the same purpose as a character who will presumably never be introduced in the show -- has not been warmly received by readers of the books, but I thought that little interlude demonstrated that she's got some potential.

Also running around the River Lands are the "Brothers Without Banners," still apparently being led by Thoros of Myr (have they shown us BerricDondarrion since his brief appearance in S1? Or will Thoros just take over all of his parts?) and their quasi-captives, Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie. The show has zipped through Arya's meanderings considerably, and you can argue that's for the best (I certainly hope it does the same with her story arc in the most recent books, which seems to be going nowhere). In this episode she parted ways amicably with her little baker friend and was once again acquainted with The Hound. The Hound only appeared briefly, but it again underlined my feeling that Rory McCann was woefully miscast in that role. The make-up job is bad, but beyond that McCann simply does not exude the menace that the character should. He always seems sad and bedraggled rather than quietly terrifying.

Mind you, back in Season 1 I had the same concerns about the casting of Emilia Clarke as Daenerys. I just didn't know if she would have the presence to pull off some of Dany's more intense scenes, like the ones currently playing out. And Clarke proved again this episode that she is absolutely the right actress for the role, as Dany wrestled with the concept of being a slave owner and haggled with the "great masters" of Astapor. One of the great joys of reading the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels is following Dany's progression from brow-beaten sister to full-fledged dragon queen, and Book 3 contains some incredible moments on her journey. Thus far the show seems to be following that script almost exactly - as it should. I don't know how you develop the character better than what George R.R. Martin wrote in "Storm of Swords." Next week looks like it will deliver one of the defining Dany moments. I cannot wait to watch that play out on screen.

Speaking of defining moments, the fantastic odd-couple storyline that is "Brienne the Beauty and the Kingslayer take Westeros" continued in grim fashion. Brienne and Jaime have been captured by (I think) Roose Bolton and his company (I believe this is a departure from the books, but I could be wrong) and the two of them had an intense discussion about the realities of Brienne's perilous situation, namely being the lone female captive in a back of sex-deprived, and simply depraved, men. In the books this storyline is crucial in helping to redeem Jaime's character after the whole incest/attempted-child-murder thing. In the show it's less important, because Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is so charming that you can't help but like him, no matter how many boys he throws out of windows. But the bond that develops between Brienne and Jaime is essential, and I love watching these two actors work off one another. They also provided another great "Oh, shit!" cliffhanger ending, as (spoiler alert!) Bolton cut off Jaime's sword hand to teach him a lesson about acting superior to his captors. I want to underline this for people who have not read the books: one of the greatest fighters in the land just lost his sword hand.

The two greatest scenes in the episode, however, took place in King's Landing. First, new Hand of the King TywinLannister gathered his Small Council, which engaged in a hilarious silent bit of musical chairs. That entire scene was brilliant, and Peter Dinklage'sTyrion is never better than when he's playing off the characters in that room. Second, newly named Master of Coin Tyrion treated his loyal servant Podrick to a reward for saving his life in the Battle of Blackwater by renting him three or four of Littlefinger's finest ladies of the evening. (Incidentally, I'm fairly sure that Pod died in battle in Book 2, so the fact that he's still here is an intriguing departure for the show.) The introduction of the whores was great, but even better was the scene with Tyrion, Bronn, and Pod discussing how the ladies declined payment after their afternoon with Pod. Kudos to everyone involved in that hilarious sequence.

Less funny were the goings-on in the North, as tortured captive TheonGreyjoy "escaped" from his tormentors only to be hunted down and then "saved" by the Bloody Bastard (this is potentially another interesting departure from the books). Red Priestess Melisandre gave Lord Stannis blue balls after she left Dragonstone to find...something, because his "fires burn low." She mentioned that the Lord of Light demands sacrifice, and others share Stannis' king's blood -- is she gathering more of Robert's bastards, or something else? We have yet to see Stannis's daughter, or her fool (who is himself something of a legendary figure in the books).

Meanwhile, what's left of the Night's Watch returned to Craster's Keep in time for Sam to get body shamed and then watch poor Gilly give birth to a boy, while the rest of the crows bristled under their host's "hospitality" and the inter-group resentments grew. And way in the north ManceRayder, Jon Snow, and the wildings discovered a lovely pinwheel made out of horse carcasses, but none of the corpses of their human riders. Mance gave the order for JormundGiantsbane to take a pack of wildings and attack the Wall. So I guess we're not even bringing up that giant Wall-breaking horn, then, show? Boo. I find those big-ass horns one of the more fascinating aspects of the books, even if that one kind of went nowhere.

Next: DaenerysTargaryen teaches the slave masters of Astapor an important lesson about how responsible dragon ownership.

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