(The) Evil Dead

As a devout horror fan, the trend of updated remakes is often more disheartening than refreshing. I especially despair over the idea that for some people, the remake is their first, and only, exposure to the content. The bar I set for remakes is not very high; if you have something new to say or examine, while also taking the time to adapt the movie to contemporary time, go for it. Otherwise, you lose the charm, the heart, and the spirit of the original film. Instead, the idea is to add gore, add an expendable cast, and convert it to 3D. Few and far between, there are some remakes that pass the litmus test. Off hand, the best recent horror remake I can name (in my opinion) is Fright Night. Obviously, my next example is the new Evil Dead, that along with the rubber stamp of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, manages to build upon the narrative devices of the original.

So what does Evil Dead (2013) update to distinguish itself from its predecessor while also subtly remaining an homage?

Changes to how relationships are emphasized

In the original, Ash’s sister Cheryl, is arguably the most annoying person you are like to encounter anywhere. She whines, she serves as a Debbie Downer from scene one, and is a general buzzkill. She gets possessed first and it actually serves to improve her personality. Ash’s relationship with his girlfriend Linda is a far more integral to the plot. She’s the one that gets the necklace from Ash early on, she’s the one that gets put in the pretty burial dress and lovingly laid to rest. His sister becomes the primary antagonist but his girlfriend retains a victim-like quality throughout the film, ’til Ash decapitates her.

The remake doesn’t try to hide that fact that it is far more interested in the dynamic between the brother (David) and sister (Mia) of the group. So much so that they seem to integrate Ash’s character arc into both David and Mia’s storyline. Mia receives the necklace, gets changed into a burial dress and subsequently buried. And yet, it retains the Cheryl plot for the better part of the film. She’s the first to be possessed, she tries to flee and gets raped in the woods. What the remake does very effectively is base her craziness (and the desire to keep her there) in reality. She’s a heroin addict who is one OD away from death. The whole weekend actually serves as a last ditch effort to get her clean, as opposed to a generic spring break trip. Unlike the original, Mia’s attitude makes perfect sense. The best evidence of the change in dynamic? In the original, Linda wears the Michigan State sweater. In the remake, Mia is seen wearing it.

This also marginalizes the girlfriend character completely (Natalie). In fact, while not the first to become possessed, she is still the least developed character. Intentional or not, this is another example of the change in relationship focus. The movie almost goes out of its way to leave her a blank slate.

The Back Story

In the original, the group finds the Necronomicon, and a record, that explains what happened to the previous inhabitants of the cabin. The incantations on the record bring about the demons’ release. Meanwhile, in the remake, we get an intro that depicts what happened at the cabin prior to the main events. Then, we have Eric become obsessed with the Necronomicon, secretly. While it goes a little unexplained, how the remake depicts this obsession (which leads to all the hell that breaks loose) and the fact he never reveals it or gets called out on it, is kind of disturbing. I’m still thinking about it.

The Sequence of Events

Surprisingly, the movie maintains the shell of the original, only diverging at the climax (and adding a dog, because, why not?). In the original, Scotty’s girlfriend Shelly is the second to get possessed; she attacks him, and he eventually dismembers her. Linda is the next to be possessed and at first is just a passive, creepy singer of a scary sounding song. Eventually, unable to dismember her, Ash opts for the burial option. She rises from the grave and Ash is forced to decapitate her. Ash goes back inside to battle with Cheryl and Scotty, both possessed. The sequence of Ash in the cellar with blood seeping out into everything is one of my favorites and I’m torn between being sad it’s left out of the remake and happy they didn’t try to touch the scene. The remake sort of addresses this with a blood rain.

Shelly’s analog in the remake, Olivia, is also the second to get possessed and attacks the Scotty analog, Eric. Instead of dismembering her, he bashes her brains in. Natalie is the next possessed, but unlike the original, is not passive. She attacks Eric and David with a nail gun. Here, Mia’s character temporarily takes over the arc of Ash’s girlfriend and gets the burial treatment. Mia awakens exorcised. David only has to deal with Eric, and his solution is to set the cabin on fire with both of them inside.

The Manifestations of the Demons

In the original, the demons are only seen through the possessed bodies of the characters or when the camera seems to become the eyes of a demon as it rushes from the forest. Without seeing it, I’ve always identified it as an invisible force in our world. In the remake, we have a startling different take on how the characters see the demons, including an ending that conjures up an “Abomination” from hell. I’ve been going back and forth on whether this entirely works for me (in some cases, it feels like just another opportunity to add shock factor) but it definitely offers up a departure from the original.

The Ending

In the lead-up to this movie, I could hardly avoid people referring to Jane Levy as the “female Ash.” Which I thought was cool. But it is hard to reconcile that with the first half of the film, where she appears to be playing the sister role from the original, albeit with more substance. However, the movie takes an abrupt turn in its climax. Eric successfully exorcises his sister, just in time for him to bite the dust and her to assume the role of heroine. Instead of continuing to fight her possessed friends like Ash, Mia must deal with the resurrection of the Abomination. She emerges triumphant and does not get possessed like Ash in the original. However, she does lose her hand in the battle, implying that like the Evil Dead musical, this was an attempt to consolidate the original Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2 (okay, they are the same movie, but not really…).

References to the Original

Fans of the original are not left to drift in the cold lonely waters of the remake, or subjected to obvious, groan-inducing callbacks. Here are some things I noticed, but this list is not exhaustive:

  • what looks to be the now dilapidated car from the original

  • the necklace looks similar but isn’t exactly the same as, the one Ash gives his girlfriend. And said necklace assumes the shape of a skull at one point when it is laying on the ground.
  • Jane Levy gets way more Ash-like after being exorcised, dusting off some one-liners and like I said, losing her hand. (“Feast on this, motherfucker!”)

  • They hail from Michigan, the same place as the original group. Also, Eric looks like he borrowed the shirt he is wearing from Scotty’s closet, amirite? (Compare to Eric above).

The Future

Now that the remake is making bank at the theaters, it is basically a done deal that we are getting an Evil Dead 2 from the same director. At the same time, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are attempting to make Army of Darkness 2. As suggested by some people, the remake doesn’t preclude the idea that the events from the original happened in the same timeline. Therefore, as Raimi et al. have suggested, a seventh film could combine the two narratives of Ash and Mia, resulting in, you guessed it, pure awesomeness. While the current box office stats definitely raise expectations that this could happen, I don’t want to get my hopes too high. Does anyone else remember when, after the relative success of Freddy vs. Jason, some people were talking about getting Ash involved? I’m sure that had to do with rights, but that was such an exciting prospect I still feel sad over it not happening.

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‘Hannibal’: The Most Successful Prequel Series Thus Far?

This year has morphed into the return of the horror series. First, we got The Following. And then Bates Motel. Now, NBC is in the ring with Hannibal, and it is by far the best of the bunch. Whether the show will suffer from its third place appearance is yet to be seen, but it is something I fear nonetheless. It might be cliché to say the market is over-saturated, but it’s true.

And yet, Hannibal is markedly different from The Following and Bates Motel. Unlike The Following, Hannibal isn’t trying too hard. The Following‘s first mandate seems to be “pushing the limits of network television” by clearly staying in lines of recognizable boundaries. What looks to be pushing the boundary always appears to be written in as a requirement, not as a means of servicing story or character. (Like, “Gee, we have the episode structure ready to go. But where’s the violence? Oh, let’s have a woman graphically strangled to conclude this scene…She’ll be killed off soon, the implications will never need exploring”.)

Bates Motel is similar to Hannibal in that they are both working from source material, from pop culture sources so prevalent that its main villains are sown into the tapestry of our collective entertainment discourse. Both are prequels set in modern day, in part to be more accessible and in part to put distance between our preconceived notions of these characters. The difference arises in presentation. The writers for Bates Motel “get” its source material but they crave the audience’s recognition of the fact they understand the material. Cue anvil-clanging sentences and Easter eggs alluding to a past story (which technically doesn’t exist in the show’s setting). Does Hannibal also rely on cheesy phrases that the audience can only truly understand knowing their forward-looking implications? Yes. But…

Hannibal succeeds where others fail for a number of reasons. For one, the mood. A Bryan Fuller series is guaranteed to pop with color and imagery, and when applied to a graphic horror series, his vision astounds when it comes to displaying blood and gore. Hannibal challenges network television in a way that The Following has not; I have never questioned The Following airing on Fox, but I am still marveling over the fact Hannibal aired on NBC. The imagery is the primary driver of the mood: oppressive, suffocating and alien. It seems to exist in a parallel universe. It leaves an uneasy feeling that clings to your bones, makes you feel dirty, and yet the invitation into the world is too much to pass up; you have to journey back there and analyze its bizarre inner workings.

Where Hannibal really excels is in Bryan Fuller’s (and company’s) command of the source material that doesn’t implore the audience to recognize the hints and clues. You can if you so desire, they’re there. Full disclosure: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris is one of my favorite books. The imagery in the book has left an indelible imprint on my memory, parts which make me shiver still when I contemplate them. Extra, balancing disclosure: I love Kevin Bacon (so I’m still watching The Following) and I will watch Vera Farmiga in anything (thus, still watching Bates Motel).

Back to my weird obsession with Red Dragon: Fuller, in my mind, really understands Will Graham as a character, and correctly explores ways he can be further developed. When I talk about the images that stay with me from the book, they are primarily from sections that involve Graham re-creating murders in his mind. Hannibal capitalizes on this in the pilot, and Bryan Fuller envisions a new way to experience this phenomena, not already tread on in the film versions. That Graham has “pure empathy” and can connect to anyone mentally, is discussed with more clinical terminology than the book iteration of Graham. Sure, it also makes Graham have a diagnosable mental disorder (closer to autistic than sociopath as the show puts it) where one was never really implied previously, but it’s not unfathomable. My narrative professor would argue that empathy doesn’t exist and therefore Graham’s imagination should raise red flags, and I’m not entirely sure that the show won’t explore a similar vein of thought down the road.

The other great thing about the show is the uncertainty, at least to my knowledge, of the end game (contingent on a renewal). Might the series end with Graham discovering Lecter’s murderous alter ego and Lecter’s subsequent attack on Graham? Or will the series move past that and into the early days of Lecter’s imprisonment? The pilot uses an actual case from Graham’s back story, so what will other episodes entail? And unlike, The Following (which can be taken at face value) and arguably Bates Motel (we’ll see), Hannibal offers a complex narrative. I benefited from watching the pilot twice; intentionally so, the story attempts to confuse you on whether Lecter is behind the abductions and murders. On a second viewing, timelines and motivations became clearer and I enjoyed the episode even more than the first time. It is easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and staging, which can make concrete information hard to keep track of, but that further contributes to the surreal oppressive mood.

Recommendations: Try it out. Watch it twice. Marvel in HD horror geek wonder at how Bryan Fuller recreated the bathroom from The Shining. And definitely explore the source material (the Red Dragon novel in particular). I have high hopes NBC will air all thirteen episodes at the least. Also, Gillian Anderson and Eddie Izzard show up eventually. It’s gonna be fun.

Credit: Entertainment Weekly

Dallas Roberts Should Just Be Cast in Everything

If you watch The Walking Dead or The Good Wife, or checked out the Elementary pilot, you’ve seen Dallas Roberts on your television this season. A few years ago, you might have seen him in Rubicon. I sure did. He brings such presence as an actor that he fully disappears into roles and yet perfectly meshes with each environment. A sort of quiet gravitas. All of this to say, I think he’s an excellent actor that tends to highlight, but not underline, a story’s nuances. Example: one Sunday night this past fall you had two viewing options on the same 9 p.m. slot: Dallas Roberts as Owen Cavanaugh, Alicia’s brother on The Good Wife, who gets tangled up not only with their mother’s divorce case but also with Alicia’s case attempting to overthrow the Defense of Marriage Act. Or you could have clicked over to AMC and found Dallas Roberts playing Milton Mamet, a meticulous note-taker and self-titled historian of the zombie apocalypse AND general right-hand man to The Governor.

It’s The Walking Dead and all signs point to Milton not making it out of Woodbury alive, but these last few episodes really gave him some great stuff to work with: he hob-nobbed with Hershel, plotted with Andrea, and went toe-to-toe with The Governor’s wrath. Not that I don’t love David Morrissey, especially in the role of The Governor, but I’ve never been more interested in the character than when the show hints at the complex relationship he shares with Milton. One where Milton can see how far gone The Governor is, and plot against him, but cannot watch him be executed. Now that he’s openly defied The Governor and was  confronted about it, this great palpable tension is present. Relationships like this have so much potential, but once again, the environment of The Walking Dead leaves everyone’s days numbered and little time to delve into each avenue rich with character development. We may get more of this (fingers-crossed) or The Governor may kill him/be killed before satisfying answers can surface. This second half of the season run for The Walking Dead has been largely excellent, so I am looking forward to what’s in store these last two episodes.

Enlightened’s Poetry

Like The Wire, I’d argue that Enlightened becomes better as a whole the more episodes you watch. The character work, especially in its second season, is phenomenal. In this new age of television, it is impossible to categorize it as a comedy or drama, or even dramedy. Putting it in these categories does it a disservice. Like Girls, it transcends television to display very real human emotions and interactions, capturing recognizable experiences the audience can easily relate to in their own lives. I cry, I laugh, I cringe. I want more. I hope all the urging for renewal is noticed by HBO, a network that should be championed for airing the show, and also has the luxury of supporting shows it believes in and allowing time for the audience to grow. Excerpts from “The Ghost Is Seen,” serve as a perfect example of the poetry Enlightened is serving up on a weekly basis:

It’s okay to be a ghost. It has its pleasures. You’re light. You float. You slip in and out unseen. There’s no love to lose. Or burden to be. You have so little to hold you down. You are free. Some pearls are never found. They hide under the sand of the ocean floor. No one knows they’re there. But the pearl knows. Maybe there was a time he wanted to be found. To be seen. And to be held. But now only hope hurts. I am my own secret. A secret kept by me.

But later…

Something has changed. Now the ghost is scared. He cannot float. He’s heavy. He’s flesh and blood. He must open doors, he can’t slip away unseen. The ghost is sad. All those years invisible haunt him now. Why didn’t he try? Or care? Or be? The ghost is happy. He is found. He is held. And he is seen. The ghost is seen.

The Guest Stars of ‘Arrow’

Just like Arrow’s conflicted protagonist Oliver Queen, I’ve also got my own list of names; that is, a pretty epic collection of guest stars who come into Starling City and completely chew up the scenery for an episode or two. I’ve struggled with my own investment in the show, but villains of the week are usually game enough, and committed to their roles, to keep my interest alive. With the CW just announcing Arrow’s renewal, I hope to see some of these characters return (those still alive…).

Kelly Hu as China White, recurring

China White is an assassin working for the Triads, who at one point is sent to kill Laurel.

John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn, recurring

The best of the best when it comes to Arrow’s stable of recurring characters, Malcolm Merlyn is the wealthy father of Oliver’s best friend Tommy. Malcolm is the closest link in a chain that viewers have to the mystery figure pulling the strings in Starling City. Malcolm passes along instructions/threats to Oliver’s mother, Moira. When a renegade archer shows up in “Year’s End” and bests Oliver in a fight, Oliver vows to take him down. It’s revealed to be Malcolm, who seems to be the closest the show is going to get to a Big Bad this season. He also just kidnapped Walter, Oliver’s stepfather, to end his meddling and to further strengthen his stranglehold on Moira.

Kyle Schmid as Kyle Reston in “Legacies”

The son of a Queen Industries worker laid off by Oliver’s father, along with the rest of the Reston family, decide to “get what’s theirs” by becoming bank robbers. Since Kyle is all over the place (Being Human, Copper) it’s not too surprising he wandered into the Arrow world.

Tahmoh Penikett as Nick Salvati in “Muse of Fire”

The right-hand man of Frank Bertinelli, Nick kidnaps Oliver and Bertinelli’s daughter Helena, when he discovers that Helena has been attacking her father’s business partners. Like Kyle Schmid (and other actors on this list) many of these guest stars are indicative of where Arrow shoots (Vancouver); naturally, many Canadian actors or actors currently living in Canada to film other shows are available for one-off appearances on this series.

Ben Browder as Ted Gaynor in “Trust But Verify”

Ted Gaynor is introduced as Diggle’s former commanding officer. Also, he’s on Oliver’s list. Oliver believes he is part of a gang of thieves robbing armored trucks. He turns out to be the mastermind of the operation, and Oliver narrowly saves Diggle by killing Gaynor first.

Seth Gabel as The Count in “Vertigo”

A new drug has hit the streets and its creator goes by the name The Count. He supposedly earned that moniker during the experimental phase of his drug when its test subjects were found dead on the street with two puncture wounds in their necks. At the conclusion of the episode, Oliver injects The Count with Vertigo, which we can assume will make him even more insane than he already was. This is my absolute favorite performance of the season and I really hope Seth Gabel gets to come back and throw his crazy around some more.

Janina Gavankar as McKenna Hall in “Vertigo”

An old friend of Oliver’s that works as a vice cop in the police department. I thought it was fairly random for her to play such a bit part but I think she will recur in future episodes. Unlike some of the main cast, she seamlessly fits into the show’s world. That, or she just has more acting talent…

David Anders as Cyrus Vanch in “Betrayal”

A recently released criminal, Vanch immediately sets to wreaking havoc. Oliver gathers evidence to put him back behind bars but Vanch realizes Laurel’s connection to the vigilante and kidnaps her.

Nick and Jess: 10 Essential Episodes

Re-watching New Girl (yes, the entire series up to “Cooler”), I was struck by just how deep and complex Jess and Nick’s friendship has become over the course of two seasons. Nick usually takes a very protective stance over any and all strange situations Jess finds herself embroiled in, and Jess is always there to reassure Nick when he feels down or ends a relationship. And unlike, let’s say Ross on Friends, there was no unrequited pining going on before “Cooler.” That does not mean, however, that there weren’t hints that a Nick/Jess endgame was in the works. So with that in mind, I took a more analytical lens to their relationship over the past two seasons and came up with 10 episodes that highlight their relationship in particular (which is probably useful if you aren’t a crazy person like me and can’t mainline all the episodes in a few days).

1. Season One, Episode Three: “Wedding”

While Nick emerged as my favorite of the guys from the pilot, I didn’t think of them as a will they/won’t they couple until this episode….and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Jess pretends to be Nick’s girlfriend at a wedding in order to make his ex, Caroline, jealous. While that ruse backfires, Jess pep talks Nick out of his photo booth refuge and out to the dance floor. It’s also funny has Nick labels Jess as a “ruiner” in this episode, setting it up perfectly for her being called a “cooler” in the second season.

2. Season One, Episode Five: “Cece Crashes”

Cece’s prolonged exposure to her best friend’s new roommates leads her to the conclusion that Nick likes Jess. Jess vehemently denies this but can’t help to notice that Cece was right about one thing: Nick’s feet are always pointed toward her, a sure sign that he likes her. By the end, Jess stops acting weird and apologies when they are both brushing their teeth (with clear camera emphasis on their feet).

3. Season One, Episode Nine: “The 23rd”

Jess is seriously questioning her relationship with Paul. Noticing her distress, Nick advises her to talk to Paul about her misgivings. Nick then accidentally talks to Paul about it before Jess has a chance to break the news. Knowing she is upset, Nick misses his flight home for the holidays in order to cheer Jess up by driving her down Candy Cane Lane.

4. Season One, Episode Twelve: “The Landlord”

Nick and Jess get into an argument over being too nice vs. being cynical. When Jess convinces their landlord to fix some things around the loft, Nick worries that Jess doesn’t realize the landlord’s real intentions toward her and keeps an eye on him. The landlord interprets this turn of events as a threesome, neither Jess nor Nick want to give up their side of the argument and stop the situation. Eventually, Jess admits she was wrong. The stakes of the situation (especially when the landlord tells Nick and Jess to start it off) are reminiscent of the “Cooler” scenario.

5. Season One, Episode Fifteen: “Injured”

Jess accidentally injures Nick in a game of touch football and takes him to her OB/GYN friend for some medication (as Nick doesn’t have health insurance). There, her friend finds a cyst on Nick’s thyroid and makes him an appointment to get it checked out. While Nick is reluctant to go, Jess and the gang insist he goes to the appointment. They spend the night on the beach, where Nick tells Jess, “I like you a lot.”

6. Season One, Episode Twenty-Two: “Tomatoes”

Jess observes the passion between her boyfriend Russell and his ex-wife when they get into arguments. She attempts to create the same level of passion with Russell but he isn’t interested in that sort of relationship.  Jess says, “I want passion. Even if it’s harder and hurts more,” ending the relationship. Upon entering the loft, Jess gets into a shouting match with Nick, illustrating that passion she was just so adamant about finding. This was the show’s clearest indication that the series is leading up to a Nick/Jess coupling in the first season.

7. Season One, Episode Twenty-Four: “See Ya”

Jess struggles with Nick’s decision to move out of the loft and in with Caroline throughout the episode. When she finally realizes that Nick’s happiness should be paramount, she tells him as much. And this exchange happens: Nick – “I think you need me too much” Jess – “No, I’m gonna be fine. You know why? ‘Cause I met you. That’s why I’m okay”

8. Season Two, Episode One: “Re-Launch”

Jess gets laid off her teaching job and gets pretty down. Nick spends much of the episode attempting to “be nice” to her, when Jess only wants him to yell at her. The episode ends with Jess finally coming to terms with her new situation, sitting with Nick on her car outside her former school.

9. Season Two, Episode Three: “Fluffer”

Nick unwittingly becomes Jess’ “emotional fluffer,” filling in a boyfriend role so she can have a sex-only relationship with Sam. Jess and Nick end up on a quasi-date at a fancy restaurant and getting into a fight over an IKEA dresser. Winston councils Nick that building the dresser leads to the assumption that one day they will share the dresser, as a couple. Nick and Jess both admit they they’ve thought about each other in that way. Nick concludes that people telling him what he should and shouldn’t do for his friend pisses him off…and he builds the dresser. They both decide they are “two people that want to be friends but are sometimes attracted to each other.”

10. Season Two, Episode Fourteen: “Pepperwood”

Nick goes into protector mode when he believes that one of the students in Jess’ creative writing class wishes her harm. After showing up to her class and stealing the student’s notebook, Jess reluctantly agrees to investigate with Nick. One interesting thing I noticed in this episode (not sure if it has happened before) is Nick calling Jess by her full name Jessica multiple times. Enough times that it stood out. To analyze the significance would definitely be going overboard BUT…it did stick out.

Bonus features:

  • BuzzFeed created an awesome compilation of fan created odes to the kiss here.
  • The kiss almost didn’t happen. Schmidt was going to be with Jess behind the Iron Curtain. Creator Liz Meriwether says “We’re just trying to be honest about how we think this relationship would actually go down.” That’s the most refreshing thing in my opinion. I’m all for breaking down the walls of traditional sitcom dynamics. That this happened in season two, and not season four or five, says a lot and gives me more confidence in the show’s future. Read the full story on EW.
  • Need to just rewatch the kiss over and over? I got ya covered below:

Miscellaneous Quotes:

  • Nick: “We like you,” end of Pilot
  • Nick: “Jess is one of the good ones,” Fancyman Part Two
  • Jess says Nick is attractive “in a rumpled small town PI kind of way,” Kids
  • When Jess attempts to talk Nick out of moving in with Caroline she tells him, “You don’t have to settle,” Backslide
  • Nick: “I think you’re the kind of girl a guy would come back for,” Santa
  • Jess: “You’re not that guy…she didn’t deserve you,” Cabin

The Americans: Matthew Rhys-licious

I don’t even know where to begin a discussion on FX’s new show about two KGB spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) in deep cover, posing as a married couple living in Northern Virginia. When you think about it, one of the most compelling aspects of the show is the centrality of the Soviet spies themselves. Spending virtually all of our time following “Elizabeth Jennings” and “Philip Jennings” (and their kids), means we are supposed to root for them…right? Obviously if they get caught, the premise ends, but it’s more confusing than just that: unlike most of television’s anti-heroes (the Don Drapers, Walter Whites, Tony Sopranos of this world), the Jennings are actively conspiring against the West. It makes for some complex emotions, surely.

If, like me, you are infatuated with Matthew Rhys, then this show is pure GOLD. It’s all you could ever hope for and more. How could you not love him? How could you not see him as your prearranged husband and think “jackpot!!!” Let me count the ways. Sure, he’s a Soviet spy, but he is accustomed to the American way of life: food, air conditioners, the new mall with cowboy boots on sale. He’s in an arranged marriage but in love with his wife nonetheless, a fact made painfully clear when he listens to surveillance of Elizabeth sleeping with a mark to get information. It’s made even more clear when he kills FOR her. What else? He loves his kids. Yet another reason to simply defect and disappear into obscurity. While Elizabeth also loves the kids, she cannot fathom telling them the truth when simply raising them “American” is painful enough.

At the mall, a creep (already with a young companion) makes a pass at Philip’s thirteen year old daughter. He keeps it cool in the moment but dons a disguise and goes after him later, if you didn’t think Matthew Rhys was in full on badassery mode yet. Later, when a certain counterintelligence FBI agent decides to check out the Jennings’ garage for their hostage (long since killed and disposed of), Philip is in silhouette, ready to eliminate the threat if any evidence is found. A gorgeous moment in cinematography. I would like to note that being this crazy about Matthew Rhys is not a fluke. This article from Maureen Ryan does a great job of pointing out some of the flaws of the pilot, but also serves as an example of how smitten one can be with Mr. Rhys: “I mean, this guy is played by Matthew Rhys — maybe it’s me, but I can’t help but think well of him from the first frame.” Preach!!

I don’t want to ignore Keri Russell: I am one of the legion who grew up debating the issue of Ben Covington vs. Noel Crane on Felicity. (I’m a Noel girl, but this might change if/when I revisit the series as an adult…maybe). She’s great, and ageless. One of the greatest testaments to her abilities is how much I dislike her character for the majority of the pilot. I want to like her, but I can’t. She’s a cold fish. And this is also where conflicting feelings about our “protagonists” also come into play: whereas Philip is ready to defect and disappear into Western consumerism, Elizabeth remains committed to her job over her children and whatever she might feel toward Philip. Through an important twist, I couldn’t help but give her some license for her actions. You know, the KGB defector they kidnap at the beginning of the pilot? He raped Elizabeth back when she was just a young teenage cadet because, that was one of the many perks. So while she may be more zealous than Philip, she also has a very real reason to want their hostage dead.

Having this little tidbit of information float to the surface (at a very convenient time, granted) stops Philip from wanting to defect and instead engage his fierce protector mode. Cue the need to dispose of the body cut to “In the Air Tonight.” Elizabeth finally gets intimate with Philip in two ways: physically and emotionally. While sleeping with him might have resulted from the adrenaline rush of disfiguring and dumping a body (I assume?), it may have also been an “atta boy” for killing off her rapist. Later, the reveal of her real name and birthplace (a big no-no) seemed a much more important step, one sure to muddle their quasi-marriage even further from here on out. Executive Producer Joel Fields commented that the marriage is an allegory for international relations. I think I am going to table that notion because it seems a little ridiculous to me that writers would follow this template for a show taking place during the Cold War.

Where does The Americans go from season one? I can see one of two things happening. Either, we get the Dexter/How I Met Your Mother reliance on stall tactics, dragging out any real narrative upheavals to one per season. This seems untenable for The Americans, especially since the show is built on suspense. However, the other way I see it playing out involves the writers taking a few pages from Homeland’s playbook, turning the tables on the characters and viewer expectations for next season (if there is a next season). Having the writers take chances will push them to keep the story fresh and engaging. But until then, I’m invested and ready for more conflicted espionage.

Zero Dark Thirty’s Awesome Ensemble Cast

You’d think the ensemble cast for Argo could not be challenged, but that would be a mistake. At every location, meeting, and level of government, Zero Dark Thirty is populated by familiar faces. And interestingly, many (not all) of these actors are prominently known for their television roles.

Jessica Chastain: She’s amazing. And while she is starring in basically every film that comes out these days, some people (like me!) might remember her role as Veronica Mars’s disappeared pregnant neighbor in the season one episode “The Girl Next Door.”

Jason Clarke: I associated Jason Clarke with his starring role on the defunct show, The Chicago Code. I championed that show until the bitter end, so I hope Jason Clarke at least gets a big film career as a consolation prize. Bonus!: I remember where I saw him most recently: in Texas Killing Fields being hunted by…Jessica Chastain.

Kyle Chandler: He really wins this year because he is also in Argo. Of course, his prominent television role is Friday Night Lights (I know, I know, I need to watch) but I can’t help but constantly think of his stint on Grey’s Anatomy. Remember how that one time there was a bomb and Kyle Chandler needed to diffuse it?

Jennifer Ehle: I honestly can’t look at her without thinking about her role opposite Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice.

Harold Perrineau: Lost. Oz. Sons of Anarchy. The Unusuals. (And Wedding Band? Sorry, Wedding Band fans — it’s a goner.)

Mark Strong: You might know him from every film ever, but his role in Kick-Ass sticks out to me.

Jessica Collins: One of those, “don’t I know her from something?” The answer must be I know her from Rubicon. Yet another show I watched to the bitter end. It really just served to prove that AMC can and will ax shows.

Fredric Lehne: You may know him from every television show ever: American Horror Story: Asylum, Lost, Supernatural, etc. Seriously, he is the epitome of the character actor.

Mark Duplass: How can you not love him?? He’s making his mark on TV (The League, The Mindy Project) and in film (Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister’s Sister).

James Gandolfini: Tony Soprano himself!

Stephen Dillane: You may also know him from everything in the world but these days I tend to shout out (mentally) “Stannis!” whenever I see him. So, Game of Thrones but also Hunted, John Adams, etc.

John Barrowman: a.k.a. Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, as well as his recent gig on CW’s Arrow. Singer, actor, host and all-around constant personality…in Zero Dark Thirty. Randomly great.

Joel Edgerton: Discussion of all other roles must be preempted because I just discovered (remembered/had a flashback to) the fact he is “young” Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels. I instantly seized upon a mental image of the trading card I have (yes, I collected Star Wars cards but I was waaay more into my Lord of the Rings collection…) and knew this to be true. And then my mind exploded. I guess I should quit wondering where this Joel Edgerton guy came from if he has actually been on the fringes all these years.

Chris Pratt: Parks and Recreation! But before Parks and Rec, my thought would have been Everwood! Wow, that really takes me back…

Taylor Kinney: This guy pops up on The Vampire Diaries, then starts dating Lady GaGa, and now has a starring role in Chicago Fire. So I imagine he made some kind of deal with the devil.

Christopher Stanley: Honorable mention since whenever I see him I can only think of Mad Men; “Henry Francis.”

Mark Valley: Human Target, Fringe, Boston Legal, and Body of Proof apparently, etc. All I can think about for some reason when I see him is that he was married to Anna Torv. But not any longer…

Amy and Tina Host an Eventful 70th Globes

First, an Oscars analysis in light of Thursday’s nominations: The Golden Globes seem to indicate that Argo still has an edge over Lincoln but that Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain are still frontrunners in the acting category.  In the Comedy/Musical category, the competition was solely between Silver Linings Playbook and Les Misérables. Anne Hathaway is closer to a lock for Best Supporting Actress, but I think the momentum for the film itself and for Hugh Jackman, ends here. The real battle seems to be developing between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence…and I think Daniel Day-Lewis and Bradley Cooper.

This picture of Ben and Casey Affleck is just TOO CUTE.

Ben Affleck may win every directing nomination he’s received, and rightly so, which makes the Oscar snob all the more confusing. I get Oscar snubs are a necessary component of the process, and that this was a great year, but this is a head-scratcher. Nevertheless, he deserves the accolades. Go Ben! And Argo!

Love him. Mental note: what role has inspired this newly buzzed look?

Not quite sure who was favored for Supporting Actor (perhaps Alan Arkin or Tommy Lee Jones?) but I adore Christoph Waltz, so *I* favored him. Then again, he has to contend with Robert De Niro for the Oscar, and that’s a tough race. Great performances in both. If Christoph Waltz was a surprise, Quentin Tarantino for Best Screenplay was shocking. I also think he was most deserving; I mean this is an original screenplay in a mixed category of both original and adapted. Weird category that makes much more sense separated, like at the Oscars.

Jodie Foster

Glad that pan over the audience showed I wasn’t the only one crying as her speech kept hitting different emotional beats (here’s the transcript). I was just so unprepared! Most of these achievement awards are, lets be honest, super boring. From the way she addressed her ailing mother and hints about “retirement”…it was like breaking the wall that glittery award shows put up. We like to see stars schmoozing with other stars and seeing them as “real” people. But it’s all so fake. Leave it to a notoriously private actor to shatter those expectations. We don’t know Jodie, but because of her celebrity…we do. And this swan song of sorts is affecting because of that familiarity. Fascinating, moving stuff.

The Competition for Most Distinguished Introduction to a Film

Bill Clinton for Lincoln, Jeremy Renner for Zero Dark Thirty, Christian Bale for Silver Linings Playbook, Catherine Zeta-Jones for Les Misérables, Tony Mendez and John Goodman for Argo, Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained…

Women on Television

Claire Danes: “very proud to be working in this medium, in this moment, in this company”

Lena Dunham: “This award is for every woman who felt like there wasn’t a space for her” and Girls “made me feel so much less alone in the world”

Random Moments

I don’t actively dislike Robert Pattinson, (he is Cedric Diggory after all) but I never give him much thought. However, I have to admit that this little GIF showing how momentarily shy and awkward he appeared to be meeting Quentin Tarantino has endeared him to me a bit:

SKYFALL and Adele win—she high-fives Daniel Craig (such delight!) and pisses off Taylor Swift

The Usual Favorites

How awesome is Jessica Chastain, seriously? So sincere. On the E! Red Carpet she stopped to tell Naomi Watts how great she is in The Impossible and how much she loved it (before being shooed away by Ryan Seacrest).

Can someone PLEASE mass publish the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was quoting The First Wives Club when she said “What does this say…I beat Meryl!” I love her more and more every time she speaks. I know how it feels to diffuse awkwardness with a movie quote only to have it sort of fall flat when no one realizes it’s a quote…

Benedict Cumberbatch (his second time at the Globes) lost to Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner winning also led to the most boring speech of the night. And Ben looked sad! Oh well…

So, ties were optional this year Ewan? What is this nonsense?

Ewan McGregor not-so-shockingly did not win for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but did get to have a chat with George Clooney (that I spied) and plenty of others, probably. I just wish he was there to support The Impossible.

Eddie Redmayne looked quite dapper, of course.

The Vocabulary of TV Criticism

Whenever you embed yourself into a new environment, inevitably you start to pick up on new phrases, slang, and new definitions for old words. Studying International Relations and Conflict Resolution introduced me to a bevy vocabulary that I needed to assimilate into my own in order to talk the talk. Talking about television is a bit easier; as America’s true favorite pastime, most of us have enough experience to engage in the conversation. But when you start to look at TV a little more critically and analytically, you get immersed in a new set of terms. Being a novice, I am slowly accumulating this new language, both official and newly coined. Here are but a few of the terms I often see swirling around (and some I’ve used myself):

Agency: This term is likely to come up in a variety of disciplines but in the television world it usually refers to a character’s agency. Can a character think and act themselves, like a real person? Or does it seem like they are simply going through the motions of what the plot requires? Characters can be complex or a series of stereotypes. One of the most frustrating things that can happen on a show is when a character obviously performs an action that goes against their established personality. For instance, I’d argue that Lane Pryce’s arc in the last season of Mad Men displayed him performing a number of actions that went against his personality just to get him to a predetermined point by the end of the season.

Anvils dropping/clanging/etc: Typically when a show writer uses a character’s dialogue to sharply underline the story’s significance and/lesson. This indicates the story was not strong enough to portray this itself and that the writers felt a need to handhold the audience. However, when they under-estimate this, the result is a metaphorical thud as these character pronouncements make their way to your ears.

Bottle episode: An episode carried out entirely on pre-existing sets to cut down on costs and increase the availability of funds for future episodes requiring a bigger budget (like sweeps week or finales). For instance, a Community episode where the action takes place solely in the study room (like when Annie loses her pen in “Cooperative Calligraphy” ). Or, the episode I often think of as the quintessential bottle episode, Breaking Bad’s “Fly,” where the action takes place in the lab. I would argue that Breaking Bad is one of the most success shows to take the idea of bottle episode and turns it into an opportunity to tell some of its best storytelling.

Chekhov’s [insert object here]: The gold standard of tropes, Chekhov’s gun states that a loaded gun introduced in the first act will be fired in the last act. While I completely understand where this is coming from (events happening from an object the audience had no idea existed is problematic), some shows don’t have the finesse to pull it off without being super obvious at the same time. But, again, Breaking Bad takes Chekhov’s ricin and leaves the audience constantly on edge as the poisonous stuff is moved in and out of sight for seasons at a time.

Course correct: The potential ability for a show to steer away from storylines that aren’t working and get back on track with a narrative that works.

MacGuffin: A plot device that uses an object (usually important to a main character) as the impetus for the entire narrative. The importance of this device to the character prompts the events of the show or the episode, but is irrelevant by the conclusion. To use the same example, Annie’s pen in “Cooperative Calligraphy” is a MacGuffin.

Multi-cam vs. single cam: Multi-cam shows are typically those also sporting a laugh track, like The Big Bang Theory and Friends. They are cheaper to make, thus the heavy reliance on them even as the whole laugh track sitcom seems increasingly outdated. A single cam is more expensive and usually involves the incorporation of many more sets than a multi-cam.

Phoning it in: Criticizing an actor or personality for disengaging their talent and merely performing the minimum of what is required, nothing more.

Puppet strings/pulling strings: Perhaps one of my biggest complaints, the puppet strings criticism usually comes into play when you can see the plot moving in ways to get from Point A to designated Point B. The developments do not ring true for the situation and its as if the showrunner leaps down from on high and rearranges the scene to shift the direction. Seeing the puppet strings is like seeing the man behind the curtain, it ruins our suspension of disbelief and sucks us back into reality.

Speechifying: Typically the opportunity for a character to command attention and ascend their pedestal while they dole out their views and their accumulated wisdom on other characters. Often, but not always, this is an opportunity for a showrunner to directly address their audience with their own views. The Newsroom is the ideal format for continuous speechifying from Aaron Sorkin via Jeff Daniels.

Spinning wheels: The tendency for forward plot momentum to halt in favor of just hanging out with characters, performing insignificant actions to the overall plot. This happens a lot in a 22-episode season, and with well-established characters it doesn’t really matter. Seeing them perform even the most mundane of actions should be entertaining. But if it is clear that we are just running in place to let the clock run out, then there is a problem.

Talking heads: The interview portions of “mockumentary” style shows like Modern Family, The Office, and Parks and Recreation. The success of shows utilizing this method are partially based on how well they can balance the action with the talking heads in each episode.

Telegraphing: When a show’s plot continuously underlines where it is going and what you, as the viewer, are expected to think about the action. Telegraphing ruins the impact of the story being told. A bit of foreshadowing can be effective, but telegraphing removes the guesswork and the subtlety. And I don’t want to watch a show where I can determine the ending in the first five minutes.