Reviewing a Few Shows

It’s been a while, so I suppose now is the time.

Dexter– at the end of a great season (let me just say that finale was the epitome of a nail biting thriller), I am sorry to see Julia Stiles go and I hope the producers aren’t teasing hen they say the door is still open for her to return. My real wonder is how Lumen feels about herself after everything she has done. Whether or not I believe Deb would have let them go…I’m still not sure. But it certainly didn’t ring as completely false. (If you pay attention, she never actually makes any attempt to identify the vigilantes or even really wonders who they are.) I wonder if Dexter’s acquittal of Quinn has bought him any good will (Quinn has no way of knowing that Dexter definitely changed the results since he couldn’t know for certain that it was Liddy’s blood on his shoe). Why must this show be so short? Bring us the next season already!

The Good Wife– this season has been an interesting one, mostly because you can’t help but wonder about Kalinda’s story that they so teasingly hang in front of us without really revealing much of anything. There was an interesting moment of her in the airport where she got tagged for extra security (I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d show the full body scanners). Also having the son (can’t remember his name) totally into Kalinda was classic. A small detail but this show is all about the small details. People, start watching this show! Saving it from cancellation!

Psych– so we finally have it. Sean and Juliette are dating. At least, that’s what they tell us. Most of the time there’s little indication of this (beyond Juliette making a comment like “I know you, I’m dating you”), only occasionally, when they were first telling Gus, was it actually a part of the story. Personally, I want it to play into things more. It does make Juliette’s loyalty’s conflicted at times. And if she’s around him more, might she ever realize that he’s lying about being psychic? I think that would be a particularly interesting thing to look at.

Nikita– I don’t know how other people feel about this show, but I’m actually really enjoying it. Especially Alex’s side of things since we seem to know enough about her to sympathize with her. We still need more about Nikita (like how she was on death row in the first place). Is it weird to see Ted Moseby’s future daughter act as superspy? The mid-season finale was a particularly interesting test on Alex that really drove home the stakes of what she is doing.

The Challenge– People are really hating on Laurel this season and while I agree that at some points she was pretty mean, I think people are also forgetting about the situation they were in. They were in a competition to make money, so there is no reason she shouldn’t have been trying to get rid of the players who she thought would prevent her from doing so. (Yes, she was out of line talking to Eric, but she did apologize and whether it was genuine or not we can’t really ever know, so it isn’t worth debating.) Her cockiness is pretty fair too, considering how strong a competitor she is (it’s like Evelyn, she is that good but she may not know how to play the social game). Whether or not she was right about Cara Maria in the end is sort of irrelevant. (So is the fact that Cara Maria is the only one who didn’t cry, since she was also the one who was carried, whether she wanted to be or not.) I feel bad for Paula, but she also shouldn’t be so surprised about it either.

Friday Night Lights
– I wasn’t loving the newest cast members and the change of schools (not because of the schools but because of the sudden enormous shift in storylines), but this season has really grown on me. I don’t care for Julie’s storyline, she’s acting like a five year old. I never really cared for her since that’s sort of all she’s ever been. But some of the other stories have picked up. I particularly love seeing Mrs Taylor try to connect to that problem kid who all the teachers hate.

Leverage– the show is pretty much the same as always, but who wasn’t charmed by Parker’s love of Christmas?

Vampire Diaries– anyone else think this season is a vast improvement over last? Not that I didn’t like last season, but ditching the diaries, bringing in Katherine, making Caroline a vampire, adding werewolves and creating a bond between Tyler and Caroline…all those elements made the show so much better. This last episode with Taylor’s transformation was particularly excellent. (And it’s nice to read about how supportive the cast and crew was with it in filming.) I’m not into Bonnie and Jeremy at all, but other people seem into it so to each his own. I am still waiting for the “rules” about the Originals. They can go out in daylight, they aren’t killed via stake through the heart, etc. So what are their limitations?

The Sing-Off– anyone been checking this show out lately? It cracks me up that acapella, which is hugely popular in college, has suddenly made it on tv. It’s sad, but true, that it never quite sounds as good recorded live as it does in person, so when you watch, think about how much better it must really be than what we hear. I don’t particularly care for the Jerry Lawson group, but otherwise, I’m quite impressed with the teams. The Backbeats and On The Rocks are my favorites. They’re still in it, but I haven’t watched episode 4 so we’ll see if they make it to the finale. I would say the judges are decent. Not the best I’ve seen but definitely better than certain others (Randy…)

Survivor– sometimes i think Jeff Probst goes a little too far during tribal council. To push them to the point where he literally may have convinced people to change their alliances (and if they had even the slightest brains they would have). I will say that I am impressed by the number of older players still in the game (half! when does that ever happen?) This is definitely the weakest season that I’ve season in a while, but perhaps it just seems that way after coming off such an excellent Heroes vs Villains season?

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The Challenge: Cutthroat

A new challenge has arrived and once again MTV has changed the format. I’m not sure if they think they make it more interesting by changing it up or if they just don’t feel like they’ve quite gotten the right format yet, but the Fresh Meat format is my least favorite, so I’m glad for something new.

This time around, there will be three teams. Each week, all three compete in the challenge. The team that wins gets immunity and $20,000 while the two teams that lose must vote a guy and a girl into the Gulag (that might be worse than Survivor’s Medallion of Power…) where they fight to stay in the game. One guy and one girl will go home after every Gulag. (I don’t want to say every week since they sometimes leave it as a cliffhanger. For some reason they think that makes it more exciting.)

Oh, did I mention, the votes are cast in secret (taking a page from the Survivor handbook huh?) The response to this bit of news: so I can tell them one thing and do something different in the vote!

In another unexpected twist, the contests aren’t divided into teams before the show starts. Instead, they race to the house and then the three losers (shockingly all girls) are made team captains and pick the teams.

For some reason they’ve decided to hold this challenge in Prague (Czech Republic). I’m not sure why. I’ve been there twice and it certainly has areas of interest (mostly for Jews who want to see the place the Nazis in WWII wanted to preserve as a sort of museum), it’s not exotic the way Jamaica (Battle of the Sexes) is.

The Cast:
Red Team
Brad Fiorenza
Brandon Nelson
Camilla Nagakawa (team captain)
Chet Cannon
Dunbar Flinn
Mandi Moyer
Melinda Stolp
Paula Meronek (is it a bad idea for her and Dunbar to be on the same team)
Tori Fiorenza (yeah, she and Brad are married)
Tyler Duckworth

Blue Team
Derrick Kosinski
Emily Schromm
Eric Banks
Jenn Grijalva
Johnny Devenanzio (bananas? how will he do without his usual posse?)
Katie Doyle (she just loves the abuse because I don’t think she’s ever had a good experience on the show yet she keeps coming back)
Theresa Gonzalez (apparently the resident mean girl)
Ty Ruff
Derek Chavez
Emilee Fitzpatrick (team captain)

Grey Team
Abram Boise
Ayiiia Elizarraras
Cara Maria Sorbello
Dan Walsh (newly recovering alcoholic–it’s always nice to see people from these shows grow up)
JD Ordonez
Laurel Stucky (so glad she’s back, maybe people will be nicer to her this time around and maybe she’ll decide it would be smart to stop drinking)
Luke Wolfe (let’s see how he does now that there’s no Evelyn–not saying she carried him through all the time, but sometimes…)
Sarah Rice (glad to see her away from Kenny)
Shauvon Torres (team captain, of implant popping fame)
Vinny Foti

Now to this week: the usual partying and drinking takes place, during which Theresa accuses Camilla of being a thief and a bunch of other girls decide to jump on the bandwagon. Paula steps in to tell her not to let them bother her, they are just trying to upset a newbie. Laurel meanwhile gets drunk and challenges Shauvon to wrestle. Shauvon, perhaps fearing another implant malfunction is not keen on the idea. (Or perhaps just worried that Laurel will kill her, because she could.) A sobear Dan wants to prove he’s still fun so he goes streaking.

The challenge: run into a gas chamber (this is so tactless MTV, think about where you are!) to get numbers that will allow them to unlock the diagrams for how they should assemble their giant puzzle pieces. (No one should ever come to a challenge without buying one of those small versions of the blocks and practicing.) Perhaps surprising everyone, though not me, the grey team won the first challenge. (I mean, they have Abram, Laurel, Sarah, and Luke who are all solid and this wasn’t a challenge that required much more than a cool head)

The Gulag: Brandon and Camilla are voted in for the red team, Derek and Emilee are voted in for the blue team. All newbies, notice. I don’t understand why the new competitors allow this. There are a good number of them (well, there are eight of them but I guess they are spread out). It is basically a cycle of bullying and mistreatment. Take Theresa as the perfect example. Last season she was the newbie and had to put up with being bullied and this season she begins the bullying first. Anyway, the challenge is to wrestle a a ring away from their opponent. Whoever manages to secure five rings first wins. The red team sweeps and blue team ends two members down.

I’m interested to see how this season will play out though I am sad that some of my favorites are MIA: Ev (she did say it would be her last challenge), the Miz, Ruthie, Coral…

Fresh Meat II: Finale

So it’s Jen vs Ryan (oh you mean there’s also Noor and Theresa involved, you kinda wouldn’t know it) and let’s be honest, we all knew who was coming back. No one seems to manage the blackout challenges well, even though they’ve been in the daytime with far less problems. In the end, Jen and Noor win, as expected. Also not surprising that everyone hoped Ryan and Theresa would come back in so that things would be easier. (As though Jen and Noor are going to be challenging in the end.)

Final challenge. The thing I hate about the final challenge is that 75% of it comes down to size. 20% is luck. 5% is heart. In this case, the size factor comes into play with the row boats and the climb. The luck comes into play with the boats and the bikes (if you don’t know how to ride a bike like Jillian or you are uncomfortable with boats like Jen, you are at a disadvantage). And heart is how hard you can yourself.

The truth is, this race came mostly down to luck. Landon and Carly started in the best position in the boat race while Jill and Pete collided with Laurel and Kenny, which put them behind. I truly believe that was the moment that caused the unexpected outcome of a Landon-Carly win. Sure Laurel was dragging a bit on the mountain, but so was Carly, so you can’t really blame it completely on her.

I will say, Kenny was nice than he has been in the past when yelling at a partner during the finals and someone should point out to him that the yelling is not likely to motivate his partner into doing better. As Carly said, Landon’s kind motivation was what helped her keep going. When you like your partner you want to step up for them.

I’m hoping that this show learns how to create more balance both in teams and in challenges. They really should take a look at Survivor to see how to make the challenges less gender-specific and maybe create fair teams based on past performance and some sort of series of challenges (like the obstacle course for the newbies).

Fresh Meat II: Episode 9

First to discuss the results of last week’s challenge. Ultimately, Carley and Landon made it back in time to win (with the five minutes taken off their time because of the puzzle). While people are saying “well if Evelyn had agreed to do the puzzle they would have won,” this isn’t necessarily true, it is just a possibility. How long would it have taken them to do the puzzle? How long did it take Carley and Landon to do it? (They seemed to have been working on it for a bit before getting it.) I don’t know that there was much of anything they could have done better other than not fumble in the very beginning. Luke did do awful on the challenge leading up to the exile, but there’s no saying if he should win or not. I understand why Ev was so upset and she did act like a bit of a baby, but TJ was also out of line. Luke saying “be gracious” couldn’t possibly have helped things. Think about it, you tried everything you could to win a game (after many a heartbreaking shows–remember, she was bullied and betrayed constantly in past seasons) and you lose and you feel like your partner doesn’t care (whether that is true or not is a separate question of course) and you need to blow off some steam and someone says “stop crying, you’re being ridiculous.” How would that make you feel? And how would that help things? What she needed was to be left alone. And maybe Luke, knowing that she felt so awful and felt like he didn’t seem to care, should have grinned a little less and said “we tried really hard, I’m proud of what we did, I wish we could have gone further” and then just stepped back.

Anyway, on to the next challenge before the final exile. There is no voting, it comes down to this obstacle course, whoever finishes in the last two spots will be going in and to no one’s great surprise, it is Jenn and Noor vs Ryan and Theresa. The truth is that while it sucks to go in so close to the end, at least whoever comes back will have seen an exile before the finals. (By the way, have Laurel and Kenny ever actually been to an exile?) At least one of them would have gone in anyway. I’m not sure why no one ever thought to throw Kenny and Kaurel against Jill and Pete (though seeing Laurel pushing around Jill was so funny–Laurel’s reaction in particular) in an exile. There were a couple of weeks where they had the chance and while it may not have been the “admirable” thing, it is the best strategic thing.

I hope next is back to regular team divisions and is less obviously dominated by a single team. Match them up evenly for once! (Maybe forget all this theme garbage…)

Fresh Meat: Episode 7

No surprise that Ev is going in. Though I do admire the persistence of trying to get someone on her side, I feel the need to point out to her that Jenn and Ryan, considered the two weakest team, would be the two smartest teams to keep around through the finale because they would be the easiest to be and as such, it is most logical to keep them in rather than send them to exile. Though who knows, maybe Kenny will remain loyal to Jill and Pete.

The challenge was beyond ridiculous. I was trying to explain it to a friend and I was watching and she just kept being like “what?” “they hang around and just swing?” I don’t like team challenges where one team member doesn’t actually do anything. Like Jen was so proud of the win and I wanted to say Jen, all you did was hang from your ankles, you didn’t win anything. Noor did all the work!

Ev needs to calm down a little. No sense in pissing your partner off now is there? But she probably feels overwhelmed by all the hate directed towards her. (Perhaps she should have allowed for more group discussion rather than unilateral decision making.)

Finally, the exile. Landon and Carley vs Ev and Luke. It’s hard to say what the real time frame is since it’s done by TV. It seemed like Landon and Carley finished the puzzle only moments after Ev and Luke left, but there’s no telling if that’s the truth or not (also, I was surprised by how weak Ev was in the beginning, it seemed uncharacteristic of her, but she seemed to pick up). I wonder if Carley can make it to the end at all. She didn’t look good. I wish they hadn’t cut it off right before we find out. That seems unnecessary…

Based solely on the fact that Carley looked like she might not finish the competition at all, I’m going to guess Luke and Ev won, but in truth, for the first time, I’m not really sure.

Fresh Meat: Episode 6

This is the most incredible turn around in the history of the show (at least as far as I can remember). The dominant alliance, controlling the game from week to week, falls apart. I’m not surprised. While Wes and Evelyn’s alliance had control for so long and often made the best decision of the moment, but they didn’t think long term enough (and of course, how can they counter the dominating force that is Laurel and Kenny?). They made shady moves to protect themselves while also angering the other “lesser” members of the alliance (Voting out Danny, pitting CJ and Landon against each other, throwing in CJ…) or at least making them question the trustability of the decision makers. Not that Kenny has ever shown himself to be a good guy, but he has always been reliable in terms of alliances.

I don’t have much to say on this other than the fact that Kenny made a brilliantly strategic move (allowing Jill and Pete to win and then making a deal with Wes) and that perhaps Wes and Ev overestimated how loyal their “moles” are. I’m surprised that Wes and Ev didn’t double cross Kenny by throwing them in against the team that they thought was most likely capable of beating them. (Is there anyone? I don’t think so…)

I hate lopsided challenges, there’s no suspense about the end result. Though if Kenny and Laurel manage to lose at some point, it would be awesome. Just because it would be so unexpected. I think they do deserve the win, considering how dominant they have been so far.

The one thing I wish is that there were more puzzles involved in the challenges. Yes, the first puzzle in exile was what ultimately sent a team home, but it would be nice to see how Kenny and Laurel do with the intellectual stuff.

Fresh Meat II: Episode 5

As predicted, Wes and Evelyn are pushing things too hard that things are getting risky. While everyone is still following their plans, they are also making people question them. If their alliance stops trusting them, they could find themselves in the minority like Kenny has of late and perhaps being thrown into exile.

For a moment I thought Danny would come back and the main reason I wanted him to come back was because things could have gotten really interesting. Imagine a really pissed off Danny coming back. He may not have won any challenges but he could have caused some problems. It also surprised me that Jillian and Pete have done so well in exile because they are so completely awful otherwise.

Though at the start of this season I was glad to see Kenny left on his own, without his usual gang of challenge controllers, it seems that Wes and Evelyn have simply transplanted them and though things seem like they may be less smooth overall, that was the thing I wanted to see changed a bit. Survivor is more interesting at the moment because alliances are less clear and there is more guessing involved. Even with the same people in charge–Russel, Parvati, etc–you still never know what is going to happen (as we saw just about every week this season). Alliances are less stable and less all-powerful overall.

My final disappointment is that other than Laurel, the Fresh Meat have been sort of lame. I also dislike how someone’s entire fate on the show is determined by their partners. I like the idea of new players being brought into the game but I would much prefer they be brought into larger teams that required teamwork in challenges rather than pairs.