The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Archive for May 2009

Southland: Old formula, new faces

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An ensemble-based cop show is nothing new. Neither is a cop show filled with characters struggling with professional and personal hardships that begin to intertwine. Nevertheless, this show is very well executed and has more potential than any other new ‘big four’ network show I’ve seen in a while.

Mostly we follow Officer Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie), a ‘rich kid’ who leaves Harvard to become a cop. Why? He’s got a tortured past, of course. Initially he’s mocked incessantly by his partner, the more experienced Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz). Cooper initially shows his disdain for Sherman by calling him ‘Spago’ (in reference to the Wolfgang Puck hipster restaurant), a hilarious put down from a person who just cannot understand why a person of privilege would ever choose the life of a cop. They’re often working closely with two beat cops in another car, Officer ‘Chickie’ Brown (Arija Barekis) and the very-troubled, boozed-up Officer Dewey (an unbelievably good C. Thomas Howell).

Sherman earns respect by warning Dewey that the perp Dewey’s corralling hasn’t been searched and then gunning the perp down after the perp pulls out a concealed handgun and fires some shot into Dewey. Sherman clearly knows how to handle a firearm, learned with practice at the Beverly Hills Gun Club in his younger years. Cooper never calls him ‘Spago’ after that.

Detective Lydia Adams (the always excellent Regina King) and Detective Russell Clarke (Tom Everett Scott) make up one investigative team. Scott will never look like a cop to me and his troubled marriage has made up one of the less engaging storylines of this first mini-season. Detective Sammy Bryant (an underrated Shawn Hatosy) and Detective Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) make up the other. Bryant is married to an erratic, neurotic type who seemingly becomes more and more annoying with every episode.

Detective Russell Clarke lives right across from Detective Dan Salinger (Michael McGrady). Salinger’s obsession with overprotecting his teenage daughter makes for one of the least fulfilling storylines of the series. He also has an on-again, off-again thing going with a local TV reporter, despite his marriage. This only makes him seem cooler in the eyes of his daughter.

We gather on the steps like this everyday. It's perfectly natural.

We gather on the steps like this every morning. It's perfectly natural.

This show makes it clear it wants to be a gritty, not-so-sunny take on the life of LA law enforcement. Just watch the opening sequence and it’s clear you’re in for a nice, big serving of bittersweet. There isn’t much about this show that breaks into unexplored territory. Yet everything about this show works. From the moment you hear the notes of the opening song to the way they flow from storyline to storyline, this show has hit the ground running right from the start. The dialogue is crisp. The action is compelling. The cases they’re trying to solve often stoke just enough moral indignation from the viewer that you want to see it solved.

I do think the show is falling into the cliche trap and would do well to try to break out into its own territory a bit. Everyone’s troubled. Everyone’s complicated. Yeah, we get it. The personal lives of the cops needs the most refreshing in my opinion. All the marriages are screwy. Ok. Yet all the spouses are there for the cops when it counts. Double Ok. Wait, actually it seems like all the cops are caught in the same difficult marriage. Hmm…

But every actor playing a cop does a great job with the material they’re given. I think Scott does the weakest job with Detective Clarke and his marriage. Maybe it’s the material but his character seems to have the least depth and dimension, despite his marital woes. C. Thomas Howell is a revelation as his out-of-control Officer Dewey is a character we’ve seen in other forms on other shows, but he does it so well. Just the bug-eyed look he gets on his face alone makes you think this guy is capable if anything. I think Shawn Hatosy does a great job as Detective Bryant, his frustrations and humanity seem to come right through the screen.

I don’t know what it is about Regina King but she always seems to disappear into a role despite the fact that she is so recognizable, and her efforts here are no exception. She’s got a challenging relationship with her mother and has a hard time opening up to potential suitors. That’s a real challenge for female cop characters on TV. It seems they’re either shut off from the possibility of romance or they’re sleeping with everyone. It would be nice if they could find some middle ground for her character.

This show started off with a seven-episode mini season and got picked up for the fall. The ‘season finale’ for the seven-episode run ended with a cliffhanger involving Detective Clarke. You can catch the episodes on hulu.com if you want to acquainted before new episodes begin again. If you’re looking for a new show, it’s one worth a look.

http://www.hulu.com/southland

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Written by the bee dub

May 25, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Michael Vick vs. Brett Farve: a battle everyone loses

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I’ve had it. These have to be two of the most overhyped, oversaturated, over-stupified storylines ever produced by an NFL offseason.

First we had to contend with Brett Farve’s continuing attempts to draw attention to himself by flirting with un-retirement once again. (For one writer’s perspective, which suggests Brett has plenty to learn from Jake ‘The Snake’ Plummer, go here.) But at least it seems we’ve finally reached the saturation point with this nonsense until Brett actually makes a decision.

But now that Michael Vick (of Ron Mexico fame) has been released from a federal penitentiary, we’re flooded with speculation about his future. Outside of the fact that he definitely won’t be playing for the Atlanta Falcons again, let me sum up the entire story: nobody knows anything.

Speculation is only interesting for so long. Not that this story isn’t worthy of some coverage, but enough is enough. Is it really worthy of a segment on ESPN to talk about his job at a construction company? The guy is still banned indefinitely (as in forever and ever until NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decides otherwise). That won’t change until he’s done serving his punishment for his crimes which isn’t until July. It’s perfectly acceptable for coverage to begin ramping up a short time before then.

But until then here is my plea to the sport media. Stop the Vick-sanity. Please.

Written by the bee dub

May 22, 2009 at 11:16 am

Hermit Cinema: Generation Kill

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I have to admit that I have a very soft spot for many things military. Two of these things are Generation Kill, both the book (written by Evan Wright) and the mini-series based on it.

A while back in a dark, smoke-filled bar I got into a long though cordial debate, trying to make the point that the American military has been one of the most misused and wrongly applied resources of the later 20th Century. Time after time, they’ve been sent into places they didn’t belong, carrying out missions which bear little resemblance to what they’ve been trained to accomplish. I don’t know what it means, but my antagonist in that bar did end up buying all the rounds I could drink after being bested by my not-so-razor-sharp wit.

What the fuck does this have to do with the seven-part Generation Kill? Please, allow me to explain…

Imagine being an elite U.S. Marine, highly trained to covertly approach any target over land, through the air, from the depths of the ocean, or any other manner the enemy does not expect. You’re specialty is approaching an enemy in small groups, observing , attacking/destroying if necessary and then disappearing. (Sounds a lot like Navy SEALs I know and admittedly, these Marines are badass but not nearly as elite.) All the sudden, you’re then sent to invade Iraq in large, company-sized groups riding open-topped Humvees with no protection between you and any non-American types and the weapons they possess. Not a very covert way to conduct yourself.

Thus begins the story of First Recon Battalion, a group of young men without enough proper equipment but plenty of firepower and questionable leadership. Some officer’s and NCO’s shortcomings earn them mockable nicknames like Casey Kasem, Captain America and Encino Man. Their exploits are recorded by Evan Wright, a writer from Rolling Stone magazine who gains the men’s respect because he used to write for Hustler.

This is a great example of the paradigm that defines much of modern war: long periods of tedium interspersed with short periods of intense violence. It also serves to recreate the problem of deploying American firepower. There’s so much firepower at their disposal and they witness more than a few examples of it wrongly applied. The scene of them observing a peaceful village, ready to report that it’s non-hostile when suddenly the entire village is vaporized in front of their eyes by an American airstrike. The strike is ordered by a superior who may or may not have further intelligence justifying the strike and they’re suspicious, though they try to make themselves not think about it much.

Make no mistake. This is a racist, homophobic bunch, ready to exploit any sign of weakness in a fellow soldier. They all fashion themselves alpha dogs and will do anything to improve their position in the pack, whether that means questioning the recreational activities of their mothers or their racial purity. But you can also see their bravery, their commitment to each other no matter the circumstance. Their orders and Rules of Engagement are often hazy, as is some of their leaders’ proficiency.

Basically, the series does a good job of depicting the riddle that is much of modern war. It does it as realistically as I’ve seen. The character of ‘Fruity’ Rudy Reyes for example, who earned his moniker because he’s so attractive they all think he’s hot, is actually played by the real Rudy Reyes.

We pick up the story in Kuwait, as the soldiers wait for the inevitable invasion to begin while also trying to confirm rumors that J. Lo is dead. Mostly we follow the action in one Humvee with team leader Sergeant Brad ‘The Iceman’ Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard), his driver Corporal Ray Person (the outstanding James Ransone who steals the entire series in my opinion), Corporal Trombley (Billy Lush) and Evan Wright (Lee Tergesen), the embedded reporter from Rolling Stone. They’re commanded by one of the ‘good’ officers, Lieutenant Nate Fick (Stark Sands).

There’s plenty of other folks who play prominently in the story. I did want to call out Chance Kelly’s performance a Lt. Colonel Ferrando, call sign ‘Godfather’ because he’s had a few vocal chords removed. When asked how he feels about his condition by the journalist Ferrando replies, “Just lucky I guess.” Sergeant Espera (Jon Huertas) is a Mexican-American who is constantly remarking on the oppressiveness of the White Man. The soft spoken Captain Patterson (Michael Kelly) is another ‘good’ officer while Sergeant Eric Kocher (Owain Yeoman) is another strong team leader. There are far too many folks to list them all here but that gives you a taste of how many actors are involved.

In fact, that’s one of the challenges of this mini-series. There are so many characters it took a few episodes before I knew who was who and what their deal was. The fact that they’re ordered to grow facial hair for a mustache growing contest and are then ordered to shave them off didn’t help either. I’m pretty slow like that but I’d imagine most people would need a while to sort it all out.

Basically we follow First Recon on various missions throughout the invasion, culminating with their arrival into Baghdad. There we see the first glimpses that the invasion is only going to lead to a much more challenging occupation.

In between there’s plenty of politically-incorrect dialogue and good scenes. One of my favorites involves some of the Marines scouting an insurgent camp and upon finding a sack of rice, one of them pisses into it. The soldier is very happy with himself but his Sargeant remarks that, “These men are hard. They’re sleeping on the ground in the open living on whatever they can find. You guys cry whenever you get an MRE without a Poptart.”

This series gives a good glimpse of the good and the bad (plenty of the bad) and doesn’t seem to pull punches. It does drag a little at times but for a seven-part miniseries, it’s solid overall.

My grade? A – minus.

Fuck Van Morrison

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One of my really good friends writes a music blog that I find really interesting. He’s got quite a following so it seems plenty of other folks do as well.

He’s just one of those guys that really digs music. When we were roommates back in the day, he’d most often be found back in his room spinning records (or the occasional CD) and taking in the groove. (He was one of those rare guys who had a lava lamp and could get away with it.) His blog is really just something he uses to bring attention to music (and other things musical like good music stores) that he thinks other people might enjoy. There is on very rare occasion a disparaging word said about an artist, but it’s really on the whole quite positive. What he’s doing isĀ  having a positive impact on the artists he highlights and the music industry as a whole.

Recently he’s been contacted by the folks at WordPress because The Web Sheriff (who works for Van Morrison, the offending party in this particular case, Prince, Franz Ferdinand and Animal Collective) find what he does to be in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Apparently, they’ve gotten WordPress to threaten shutting his blog down. I can’t imagine anything more short-sighted. Like I said, he’s really creating more interest in music than doing harm.

So from now on, I say, “Fuck Van Morrison.” I will no longer purchase any of his music. I do have some of his music and will play it at home on occasion. (Maybe.) Nor will I again purchase any music from the other sponsors of The Web Sheriff’s activities.

There. I’ve done my part kicking ‘The Man’ in the shins for the day.

Written by the bee dub

May 14, 2009 at 2:17 pm

LOST: Jump the shark part 2

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I just finished watching the finale and boy, what a letdown. It was the TV equivalent of a cup of slightly less than room-temperature coffee.

Frankly, I gave the show too much credit for having two good episodes in a row before tonight’s finale.

Sadly, I’m in it until the end. I have to know what the explanation for everything is so I’ll keep watching through the last season when it picks up again. But this show has clearly jumped the shark. Jacob’s identity was obvious way too early. The plotlines seem desperate. It’s just a big, fat mess of bad television.

I don’t even have the energy to write about it. Right now I feel like I just ate a lot of bread for two hours looking for the meat in between.

Written by the bee dub

May 13, 2009 at 10:25 pm

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ESPN Reporter retires from Brett Farve retirement story

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Last night on Sportscenter, Neil Everett held a mock news conference announcing that, “At this moment, I am retiring from reporting any more on the Brett Farve retirement story. Keep in mind, I did say, ‘At this moment.'”

Well done, Neil.

Written by the bee dub

May 12, 2009 at 12:43 pm

LOST: I have to admit, I’m watching again

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So there I was, cruising along and keeping up with LOST episodes online.

But then a couple of weeks ago I got a curious itch to watch the show as it aired and I scratched it, big time. That last two episodes have been a much needed return to old form. First of all, everyone’s got guns again and people are shooting at each other. I realized how much that adds to the excitement and danger that the island represents. The time we spent watching characters trying to pick up their lives on the mainland was like watching bad community theater. I am now able to set aside any issues and just immerse myself in the current story, which is what I felt the show had lost for the last ten to fifteen episodes.

I still have some gripes. The fact that some folks are in the present and others in the past still feels a bit like bad 70’s TV. There’s still the looming, inevitable soap-opera angle that hangs over Sawyer, Julia, Jack and Kate. Ben Linus has lost his menace which really makes him pretty pointless as a character – I realize that he’s bound to regain some later but he seems almost pathetic now. Watching Jin and Sun determined to reunite through time is also a little painful.

But I’m engrossed once again and am anxious to see the next episode. Like they’ve done so many times in the past, this show has rebounded strong. It just took them a lot longer than it has before to show a return to brilliance. It almost feels as if they spent a lot of episodes killing time, as if they knew how they want the show to end but that storyline wasn’t going to take enough episodes that they agreed to so then we ended up with USDA Grade C filler.

Filler is never good. Not in bologna. Not on a music CD. And certainly not on episodic TV. Two episodes does not establish that the show is as good as it once was. But it’s nice to see some signs of life.

Written by the bee dub

May 11, 2009 at 2:36 pm

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