By Chauncey Telese
Hello everyone, how’s your 2012 so far? We’re not even two weeks into his new year and we’ve already learned haven’t we?
We learned that while Mitt Romney is all but guaranteed to get the Republican nomination that his party sees him the way I’m sure Atlanta Falcons fans see Matt Ryan, meaning he looks good at times but he can’t win the big one.
We learned that despite the fact that Kobe puts up numbers, they are good at home, and Bynum hasn’t gotten hurt yet they will only be a sixth seed and out in the first round (barring a trade). We learned that the SEC is where college offenses go to die and that it is ridiculous to have a national title game played 44 four days after the regular season. And finally, (disclosure: this story was held past Saturday’s football lineup, something for which we apologize profusely. That said, GO NINERS!) we learned that despite the fact that the Steelers lost their whole D-line, were defended well, and that John Fox outcoached Mike Tomlin, Tim Tebow is the only Bronco that matters. As much as I hate Tom Brady and the Patriots, I am looking forward to him blowing out the Broncos because I’m sick of Tim Tebow, rather I’m sick of his apostles on ESPN gushing about him 24/7. I give him credit for playing really well on Sunday, but why does he have to be the end all be all whether he wins or loses?
Alright, getting to this week’s business, last Sunday Showtime debuted their winter lineup and while I think “Shameless” has vastly improved, the rest of their lineup leaves a lot to be desired (their spring slate looks works with “The Borgias,” “Nurse Jackie” and “Episodes”). Showtime is cable’s version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” because they are perceived to be the answer to HBO, but they are really the fourth place network in the cable realm. All of their franchises have completely deteriorated in quality (“Dexter,” “Weeds,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Californication”) and their new hit “Homeland” while amazing has to find a way to sustain itself because it’s not exactly built to last. FX and AMC have leaped over Showtime in the last few years and in the case of FX, they’ve gotten closer to HBO then anyone has in a while. Let’s break down why and look at each show shall we?
Last year I reviewed the pilot for “Shameless” and at the time I didn’t know quite what to make of the show. Obviously, I knew it would always skirt the line between comedy and drama but as the season unfolded, it had a tough time figuring out the right balance. There would be moments where the Gallaghers had to pull off some mad caper either to get utility money, bail Frank out, or help someone out. Other moments would bring up the idea that Debbie and Carl are going to grow up with severe mental problems, but then the next minute flourish in the family’s dysfunction. Last season ended with Frank’s ex-wife trying to come back but ultimately getting the boot, Karen’s father killing himself, Sheila overcoming her agoraphobia, Steve having to leave town and Fiona not leaving with him. I wasn’t sure what the show was going to be come season two but after the season premiere Sunday I’m relieved to say that it’s still a great hour of TV and any balance issues seem to be worked out for the time being.
It’s summer time and as always the living isn’t easy for the Gallaghers. Lip operates an underground fight club and has to fill in for a no-show fighter. Ian is still working at the Kash& Grab running the store while Kash has dalliances in the freezer. Debbie is running a day care out of the house and even gets a fire fighter to fill up their pool for free, and Fiona is waitressing at a bar with Veronica. Fiona also hooks up with a young venture capitalist and rediscovers her ability to run (she nearly broke the state record but had to quit the team) and Frank is still trying to mooch off of Sheila but as Sheila takes more and more steps, Karen reminds him that she’ll eventually learn what a scumbag he is. The main action going on in the episode occurs when Frank makes an idiotic $10,000 bet with a gangster and to his surprise he actually has to pay up and they keep baby Liam as collateral (ironically Liam was better off with them then Frank). Frank stoops to some godawful levels to raise the money, but alas he’s still way short. Meanwhile Kevin and Lip break out their ice cream truck in order to make money selling ice cream and weed. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the episode is Kevin having to tell Veronica that he overgrew his crop and her reaction is priceless.
The Gallaghers learn of Frank’s idiocy and out of love for Liam, they manage to settle Frank’s debt in classic Gallagher fashion (giving the gangsters three gigantic garbage bags full of weed). Another big development is Ian’s desire to go to West Point despite Lip’s objections and in the unique type of moments this show pulls off, we see that Lip is all in on helping Ian but we see his reluctance (they will eventually fight as seen in a preview of episodes to come). My favorite shot from the premiere is the last one, where Fiona has Debbie time her as she attempts to do the 1600m. Emmy Rossum’s face sums up who her character is and all of the frustration and pain she’s had to hold in. The episode was a great example of what the show can be and I hope it continues to be. Next week we learn Frank is a suspect in the death of Karen’s father and must scramble to find an alibi, and the possible return of Steve is on the horizon. I’ll continue to keep “Shameless” in my starting rotation so we’ll be tracking the Gallaghers all season long.
Next up, we will examine Showtime’s latest foray into comedy with a show that tries too hard to be provocative, edgy, and timely but ultimately fails despite a great cast.
“House of Lies: Pilot”
For some reason cable comedies get caught up in trying to have a high concept and let the jokes fall by the wayside. With the exception of “Curb your Enthusiasm” and early seasons of “Californication,” most of these shows fail to make people laugh waste their premium talent and either turn into a drama or just get cancelled. The latest example of that is Showtime’s “House of Lies” from the creator of FX’s short lived drama “Dir,t, Matthew Carnahan. The problem that “Dirt” had was that it had a great premise but lacked focus and didn’t know what it show was. Well, it looks like Mr. Carnahan hasn’t learned because he wasted Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, and Ben Schwartz (who if this show gets cancelled. can go back to being Jean-Ralphio on “Parks and Recreation”). The premise of the show follows Marty Kahn (Cheadle) who plays the lead of a management consultant team that cons (which makes the name choice all the more subtle, right?) corporations into letting them help their public image or get information on a rival company. He isn’t above using unconventional methods to get what he wants and this ultimately leaves him in a position of self-loathing. On paper, not a bad premise, but the writing is shiftless and told me very little about who these people are and what they do.
The show tries to tell us that Kristen Bell is conflicted between wanting kids and being a ruthless career woman. Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson play guys who I guess do data work, but I have no idea why they’re on Marty’s team or even who they are. That wouldn’t matter if Marty were an interesting character but he’s not. I mean we see he has a transgender son (who really wants to play Sandy in “Grease”) and a psychologist father and an ex-wife who is a rival and an addict. The details are there but when they are introduced they don’t carry much weight and don’t make much of a difference. As previously stated, none of these things would matter if the show were funny and I didn’t mind spending time with these people if there were laughs, but those aren’t there either. The jokes sound like rejects from “Californication” and satire is attempted but it falls flat mostly because when Marty is in the middle of being the modern Don Draper, he stops the action to tell the audience what he’s doing. It works a few times, but they lean on that too much and it just served to tell us things that we could figure out on our own. I was looking forward to this show because the cast looked great and I love this type of premise but I was severely disappointed. Going forward, I won’t be recapping this every week but I’ll stick with it through the first season to see if it can be salvaged or if it’s doomed to be as bad as “Episodes”.
“Californication: JFK to LAX”
Lastly, I’ll break down the season premiere of “Californication” and while I’m impressed that the show is considering breaking up the formula, it still remains stuck in neutral. They toyed with it at the end of season three with Hank getting arrested for hooking up with Mia in the pilot and I thought that now he would have his moment where he’d have to change, but instead he got probation, hooked up with his lawyer, and meandered throughout Hollywood hooking up with girls and taking a random writing job he doesn’t want. The big twist at the end of season four was that Karen had a new man and she and Hank wouldn’t end up together. That is somewhat a big step because it at least takes away the on again-off again nature of their relationship which got tedious because no woman would want to be with Hank after all he did.
This season begins sometime after season four and Hank is living in New York with some young girl. He had written his memoirs and of course called it “Californication” (which is how I figured the show would ultimately conclude but whatever) and life seems good. However, in classic Hank Moody fashion, his relationship ends and he hightails it to LA. On his plane flight, he meets and hooks up with Kali (Megan Good) and they join the mile high club (oddly enough, Hank’s never done that before). They land and she disappears (we know she’ll be back). Runkel picks Hank up and informs him about a job offer to write an action movie for hip-hop star Samurai Apocalypse (played by RZA). Hank is reluctant because, as we’ve covered a million times before, he’s against writing movies. Samurai won’t take no for an answer and tells Hank that after reading “Californication,” he deems Hank the only one he can trust with making him a movie star. After Hank hangs out Samurai’s mansion for awhile he meets his wife who, of course, is Kali (another thing this show’s done a few times) and now Hank has to worry about Samurai finding out (spoiler, he will). On the domestic side of things, Hank is actually cool with Karen’s new man Richard (Jason Beghe) but isn’t cool with Becca’s new boyfriend. They all hate Tyler because he’s essentially Hank (though of course, Hank doesn’t see that) but while Karen feels that it’s best to let it play out, Hank surely will try to ruin it on his own. Also, Marci is still seeing Stu (played by the always great Stephen Tobolowski) and they even have a kid now.
Hank is just ready to go back to New York but while he’s been out in LA his ex-girlfriend set his apartment on fire, forcing him to stay in LA. At the end of the day, this show is still sticking to its formula and while I’m sure there will be a copious amount of dirty jokes, nudity, Hank learning some lesson, and witty lines, its still the same show year after year (not a new statement, I know) and one that I’ll stick with on my DVR but still don’t feel compelled to recap it every week. That’s it for the week and stay tuned as next week I’ll have more “Shameless” plus the season premiere of “Justified” and the series premiere of “Alcatraz” and possibly “Contraband” if I go to the movies. Thank you as always for reading and hopefully when we meet next I can gloat about how my Super Bowl will be Tebow free. (editor’s note: You can. You're welcome.)