Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Showtime’s Web Therapy #302 “Who Doesn’t Love Musicals”

by Catherine Giordano

The Way It Was

Lisa Kudrow as Fiona
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Really, People, you have to believe me—this is the best show that you are not watching. If you like smart comedy, watch Showtime’s Web Therapy with Lisa Kudrow—a new episode debuts every Tuesday night at 11 pm. If you missed the previous two seasons get the dvd or order them from NetFlix. or itunes, or amazon or whatever.

This is the way it was on the second episode of season three.

Steve Carell is back as Jackson Pickett, Fiona’s one-night stand who has fallen in love with her. They are both back at their respective homes and having a little video chat.  Fiona puts it as delicately as possible, which is not very delicately, the he “should not aspire to the likes of her.”   “Go find a waitress or a shop clerk,” she tells him.  Also, oh so delicately, she accuses him of stealing her Rolex watch.”  Jackson declares his love in response to the former and his innocence with respect to the latter.

Pickett? Pickett? Where have I heard that name before? Oh, yes, T. Boone Pickett.  Wouldn’t it be a hoot if Jackson is the billionaire’s son or grandson? We see Jackson sitting in a very spacious well-appointed office during his video chat with Fiona indicating that he may be a wealthy successful person.   (Perhaps that is why he laughed when Fiona accused him of stealing her watch.) P.S. Fiona finds her missing watch on her desk right after she ends the chat with Jackson.

Jackson claims to have memories of the future so he knows that Fiona is actually in love with him. He claims that her call was just an excuse to stay in touch with him. He knows that is the way it was.

Fiona’s next chat is with her gay almost ex-husband and his lover Ben. They live in New Mexico now and are big supporters of the NRA. Fiona says that the NRA slogan is “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people.”  The conversation is hilarious as Kip and Ben try to correct her, but Fiona, who knows that she is always right, continues to insist that “people with guns kill people.” (And really, isn’t she right?) Eventually the conversation moves on. It seems that Fiona mis-used some campaign funds when Kip was running for Congress (before running away with Ben) and the feds are closing in on her.

Alarmed, Fiona calls Richard who used to handle the campaign finances.  She is trying to get the records. Richard claims that he has shredded them. Fiona becomes increasingly desperate. 

Next Fiona chats with Jerome, her former assistant who had left to run her mother’s rival business, Net Therapy, which was a knock off of her own business, Web Therapy.  Richard is not as he was on the last episode. He looks a mess. It seems that Putsy has sold Net Therapy for mega bucks to a British company and Richard was not part of the package. He is now desperate for work. Fiona plays him into agreeing to work for her again, but at minimum wage with no benefits.  And one other thing—Fiona insists, as a condition of his employment, that Jerome steal Putsy’s client list. Lastly, in “the-push-for-maximum-advantage” moment of the week, she tells Jerome to give her some of the items from his house, a bronze horse from his mantle and a large urn that was sitting on the floor across the room. Fiona doesn’t need this stuff, but she just can’t help herself—when she has someone within her grip she has to squeeze every last ounce from them.

Fiona has a little chat with Franny, the composer/lyricist who is doing the songs for the musical Fiona, a show that will portray Fiona as a very bad person. She evidently took Franny out for drinks and since Franny is a lush anyway, got her very drunk.  Fiona then substituted her own compositions for Franny’s. By the way, the Franny/Fiona’s show tunes satirize show tunes and the whole thing is hilarious.

During the video chat she works on convincing Franny that she actually wrote those new songs.  At first, Franny is dubious because they are very bad songs, but Fiona succeeds in convincing her that this is the way it was—Franny wrote the new songs while drunk the previous night. 

Franny, aided and abetted by Fiona, has a sudden epiphany—she was writing hateful songs about Fiona because she actually hated herself.  It seems, for the moment, that Fiona has been successful in changing her characterization in the musical from bad person to good person.  But she is in push-for maximum-advantage mode, so she plants a seed in Franny’s mind that she should quit the show. Fiona obviously hopes that if Franny quits the whole project will be cancelled.

And that is the way it was on Tuesday July 30th, 2013 at 11pm on Showtime.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

HBO's "The Newsroom" #13 "Willie Pete"

Hope Davis as Nina Howard
by Catherine Giordano

The Big Dramatic Gesture

Was HBO’s "The Newsroom" just a little better in episode 803, “Willy Pete”? Well, Mackenzie didn’t hit anyone during the episode.

But MacKenzie is still vying for “The-Most-Annoying-Ex-Girlfriend-Ever” title. During this episode she asks Will at least a dozen times about the phone message he left for her last season after covering the “Osama-is-dead” telecast. It was “Don’t think I’m only saying this because I am high, but …”  Mackenzie is pestering him to say what came after the “but. She pestered him about most of last season too, but now she has reached new heights on the “Pest-O-Meter.

She knows about the phone message because it was hacked and the part about being high was revealed by Nina, a gossip columnist.  Now Nina has some fresh “scandal” on Will, and he undertakes the big-dramatic-gesture to persuade her not to tell the world. It’s a wonderfully romantic scene—the empty executive dining room, mimosas served by a waiter clad all in black, and a piano player off in the corner playing “What the World Needs Now is Love.” He appeals to her better nature not to print the story, and he wins her over despite the fact that scandal is her bread-and-butter. Sometimes the people in Newsroom world are such paragons of virtue that we mere mortals have to question everything we know about the way the world works.

After she agrees, Will leaves the table, but then returns to ask her on a date. She refuses saying she knows he is still in love with MacKenzie. You see, she knows that the end of the message is “but I never stopped loving you.”  Later Mackenzie calls late at night to beg Nina to tell her what the message was. Nina lies and says Will said she was a great producer. The shot widens and we see Nina, who has obviously just emerged from the shower, standing in Will’s apartment. So they went on that date (and more) after all. And Nina doesn’t want any ex-girlfriends mucking up her new romance.

There’s another big dramatic gesture and another character mastering the art of pestering. Jim is on the Romney campaign bus, asking a bunch of questions embarrassing to the candidate, pointing out the inconsistencies in his positions. The “tour bus leader,” a spokesperson from the Romney campaign, keeps evading, denying, bobbing, and weaving.  Finally Jim decides to have an “I’m-mad as-hell-and –I’m- not-gonna-take-it anymore” moment and yells “Who’s with me” to the other reporters on the bus. He only gets two takers, and in the next scene we see the three of them standing by the side of the road as the bus drives off.

The next big dramatic moment is a turn of the plot. The newsroom get evidence that the “genoa” operation may have really happened.  It comes in the form of tweets made by a Pakistani who was on the scene at the time. The tweeter talks about “Willie Pete,” the term for white phosphorous. (Only it wasn’t white phosphorous, it was racin gas.)

Rom the big dramatic moment we can now segue into the big-idiotic moment. Margaret is still as big an idiot as ever. She takes some malaria medication because her big dramatic gesture to run off to Africa to cover some story (but really just to get away from everyone in the newsroom). Nina tells her she should have taken the other medication for malaria because the one she took just moments ago has really bad side effects. Margaret immediately begins experiencing all the side effects. Nina tells her the side effects don’t kick in for a week. Margaret is undeterred and continues throughout the rest of the show with her side effects.

I have a suggestion for the people in the news room for a big dramatic gesture—grow up.

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Showtime’s Dexter #805 “This Little Piggy”

by Catherine Giordano

It’s All About Family

Showtime’s Dexter #804 aired on July 26, 2013 was all about family. It begins with Dexter and Debra sitting with Dr. Vogel for some family therapy. Debra is remorseful about her attempt to kill Dexter and herself; Dexter is still angry. He plays the orphan card: “Who would have taken care of Harrison.”  He flings the words in Debra’s face. Vogel is not successful in healing this family, at least not yet.

Dexter left Vogel’s office without finishing the session, but events bring the three of them together once again. Dr. Vogel is kidnapped from her home by AJ Yates. Debra returns to Vogel’s house soon afterwards and sees the broken window and Vogel gone and realizes what has happened. She immediately calls Dexter and they team up to find Yates and to rescue Vogel. 
Dr. Vogel sweet-talking AJ Yates on Showtime’s “Dexter”
 Dexter and Debra decide that Yates may have taken Vogel to a house he visited in his day job as a cable repairman. Some of those houses may now be vacant. They are able to narrow their search down to one or two dozen homes. It is still too many—searching them one by one is going to take too long. 

Fortunately, Vogel is able to make a phone call to Dexter from the home where she has been taken. Debra gets Elway, her boss at the private eye firm where she now works to trace the number.  (One small question:  These days with caller ID and reverse phone directories, why did Debra act like “tracing the number” was such a big deal.) 

Vogel doesn’t have time to talk to Dexter, but she leaves the line open so Dexter and Debra can hear everything that is going on. Before they can arrive, Yates notices that the phone is on and he becomes enraged.

Vogel is using all her wiles to save herself from Yates. She begins by reasoning with him and telling him that everything she did was too help him. She also tries to reach him emotionally describing to him (and us) his childhood abuse at the hands of his mother. How she beat him, and how he had to hide under the bed to escape her. While under the bed, all he could see were her shoes and this gave rise to his foot fetish.

And a very strange fetish it is. The woman Dexter rescued from Yates’ home has survived, and she was able to tell the police who was responsible for her injuries. Miami Metro arrives at Yates’ house and begins digging up the garden. They find the bodies of three women, each buried under a rose bush. They are buried wearing one shoe.  When the bodies are examined, they find that each of the toes has been broken. Further,  they can tell that the toes were broken over a period of time because some of the toes showed signs of healing prior to death.

It looks like Yates has the same fate in mind for Vogel. He has a pliers and is about to apply it to her “little piggy.” Desperate, Vogel tries a new tactic. “ Albert,” she yells out in a commanding voice. Albert stops and says, “My name is AJ. No one calls me Albert except my mother.” As if Vogel didn’t already know that—she was his therapist after all.  Now she goes into full Albert’s-mother mode, speaking to him sternly, and then slapping him hard, hard enough to make him bleed. He goes into the kitchen to get a towel to stop the bleeding, and this gives Vogel the chance to make the phone call to Dexter. When Yates’s returns to the room, Vogel is once again speaking to him soothingly. It looks like she is making progress with him, but then he discovers the open phone line and is enraged.

Fortunately for Vogel Debra and Dexter arrive at the house just then. When they enter the house, Vogel and Yates are nowhere to be seen. They go to an upstairs bedroom and find Vogel tied up in a closet with duct tape over her mouth. They don’t see Yates, but he is under the bed looking at their feet. Dexter says, “Forget Yates. The important thing now is to get Dr. Vogel out of here.”

It looks like they are all going to leave, but in a flash, we see Dexter on top of the bed.  He has a metal curtain rod in his hand, the kind with the pointed finial at the end.  He stabs if through the mattress killing Yates with this improvised javelin.

So Debra and Dexter are back together as a brother-sister vigilante team.  This is “the- “family-that-kills-together-stays-together” moment of the show.  At the end of the episode, we see Dexter Debra and Vogel on Dexter’s boat as Dexter dumps Dexter’s body into the bay. They talk about how beautiful it is out at night on the boat under the stars. Just one little happy family.

There are some other family matters during this this episode. A maid has been found dead and her wealthy and well-connected employer, Ed Hamilton, comes under suspicion. He eventually is forced to admit to having an affair with her (pesky DNA and evidence that the deceased had recently had sexual intercourse), but denies killing her. Quinn is investigating the case, but he is repeatedly warned by his superiors to back off on Hamilton. 

Since when does Quinn listen to orders--he is gung-ho to pursue this case. He’s off to the scene of the murder where he finds a street vendor who can ID the killer. The killer ID’s Hamilton’s 16-year old son. The vendor is supposed to come in and give a formal statement, but he recants his testimony. There are perks to be well-connected.

More family matters—this time it is all about Matsuka. It seems that Matsuka donated sperm when he was in college and a lovely young woman has shown up claiming to be his biological daughter. She tells him her mother was a single mother and she has recently passed away. Matsuka is delighted to learn he has a daughter and he takes her to a food truck to get some coffee. She proceeds to order a large meal and asks for more food to go. She asks Matsuka to pay for it because she has left her purse in the car. Matsuka is now concerned that she might see him as her meal-ticket and maybe more. He goes to Debra’s office and says he wants to hire her to investigate this woman.  

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” is the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenia. It seems we have some unhappy families here.  And I haven’t even spoken about Vogel, kinda sorta adopting Dexter and Debra as her children. I have some serious suspicions about Vogel. Is she the “Brain Surgeon?” Remember the brain-surgeon killings are done by a puppet master. Yates was not the brain surgeon—it is not his M.O. Is Dr. Vogel using some of her little family of psycho ex-patients to kill?  And why?

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher #291 “Tell it Like It Is”

by Catherine Giordano

Tell It Like It Is

HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” delivered a great hour of conversation and comedy during episode 291 which aired on July 26, 2013.  It was as if all the guests had decided to tell it like it is.

The monologue began with Bill telling it like it is about Anthony Weiner and his sexting scandal. He parodied his user name, “Carlos Danger,” and said it should have been “Carlos Jack-Off.”  He said Weiner was at the Apple store and the clerk told him, “You know, you can also make calls with this.”

From there he segued to the 70-year old mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner, another politician with a sex scandal—extreme sexual harassment. Bill said he is in two weeks of intensive treatment on how to keep his hands to himself.

Bill didn’t joke about Eliot Spitzer and his sex scandal, perhaps because Spitzer was on the panel. I have to feel sorry for Spitzer. He’s running for Comptroller of New York and these two sex scandals can’t help but remind everyone about his own sex scandal a few years back that forced him to resign the governorship of New York. At least his sex scandal was a grown up scandal—he was having sex with prostitutes—Weiner and Filner are acting like teenagers.

Bill put Spitzer on the spot asking him if Weiner should drop out of the race for mayor of New York. Spitzer wisely evaded the question saying, “It is up to the voters.”  Bill doesn’t think Weiner should drop out over personal issues.  I think he’s wrong about this. (By the way, so do the voters—Weiner is no longer in the lead in the polls.) For me it is a matter of character, judgment, and maturity. When the scandal first broke, I gave Weiner the benefit of the doubt—perhaps he thought it was only harmless flirting. But now I have to tell it like it is--Weiner continuing with the sexting after he was forced to resign shows that he learned nothing and he puts his gratification ahead of his family and his desire to serve his country. I don’t think New York needs a mayor who will have a scandal de jour.



The interview was with Sarah Slamen. She was the young woman who we all saw on TV during the Texas special session, the one called so Republicans could pass a law to close down almost all of Texas’ abortion clinics. The Republicans were forced by Texas law to allow public testimony. Slamen shouted out to a Republican  legislator, Jane Wilson, who had interrupted Slamen’s testimony, “I will judge you, M'am.” She was perfectly within her rights to do so, but it got her dragged from the room. She’s an intelligent woman who is passionate about the issues and who tells it like it is—I think she can be successful in politics if she chooses to be.

There were three men on the panel this week—each with a new book to plug. Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York who is currently running for comptroller of New York and has a new book out—Protecting Capitalism Case by Case. The other two were Reza Aslan, a religion scholar, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and Bob Ney, former Republican Congressman from Ohio who went to prison for crimes connected to the Jack Abramoff scandal and author of  Sideswiped: Lessons Learned Courtesy of the Hit Men on Capitol Hill.  (The title made me think the book would be about him defending his actions and blaming others for his downfall, but I read some reviews and he apparently freely admits his mistakes while also revealing high level people in the Bush administration who played a major role in the Abramoff crimes.)

Bill brought up a comment Boehner made this week. “We measure this Congress not by what we pass, but by what we repeal.” Aslan quickly pointed out that they had repealed nothing implying that Boehner’s own words show that his leadership is a failure. This is “the-hoist-on-his-own petard” moment of the week.

Bill also did a good joke about John Boehner in the monologue. He compared John Boehner to the Lincoln Memorial which just sits there and does nothing—“If the Lincoln Memorial could cry and chain smoke, it would be just like John Boehner.” 

Bill said that Boehner wants to hold a gun to the head of the country. Boehner put out a list of demands that he said must be met or else no debt-ceiling action—it was a menu of things that America has just said they don’t want. Spitzer said, “They are living like the last 15 years didn’t happen.” Ney said, “It is a total smokescreen because they can’t do anything. They don’t have any ideas.” Boehner only wants to count the votes for speaker; he doesn’t want to do what is good for the country.”  (Ever notice how smart Republicans get when their political careers are over. I saw Olympia Snowe, former senator (R-ME), on TV recently advocating for the things she just voted against now that she has retired from the Senate.)

The special guest was the Reverend Jim Wallis, the author of On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned about Serving the Common GoodBill described him as “one of the good ones—a evangelical who cares about social justice.” Unfortunately, the air of collegial discussion that had pervaded the show was ended by Bill. He kept interrupting Wallis to confront him about the “nonsense and viciousness” in the Bible. Like Bill, I am an atheist, but I liked Wallis and I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Jim Wallis was telling it like it is, “Too many people like to thump the Bible and do not read it. Jesus talks about the poor. Faith without works is bad.”  Spitzer said, “We have to embrace voices in the religious world who find progressive causes in the Bible.  (Maybe he was trying to get Bill to shut up and let the man talk. There is a time to debunk religion and there is a time to let a man tells us how his religion teaches him to do good works.)  

Aslan, the religion scholar made an excellent point about the Bible (and perhaps by extension all religious texts, including his own—the Koran.) “What you don’t like [in the Bible] is figurative. What you do like is literal. The reason the Bible matters is not because it is true or false, but because it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Slavers and abolitionists both quoted the Bible, often the same verses to support their very different views.” I agree with Aslan, but I don’t think he is making a very strong case for religion and holy texts. What good is the Bible if it can mean whatever you want it to mean? (Secular humanism, on the other hand, plainly lays out consistent moral guidelines.)

The mid-show comedy bit was all about the royal baby. Bill gave us some cards that famous people might have sent. Here are some of them.

George W: Bush:  Your head is softer than mine.

Cast of Honey Boo Boo: Congratulations from one family of useless inbreds to another

Demi Moore: You’re so cute. Do you want to grab dinner some time?
           
Donald Trump: Born rich, whining, and famous for nothing.

Anthony Weiner: Hand the phone to your mother.  


The final New Rules segment dealt with the quote from Benjamin Franklin “They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety.” This quote was apparently tweeted twice by Sarah Palin, thereby (according to Bill) cancelling out whatever wisdom it once had. 

“It’s called the social contract,” he said. “It’s stoplights, and airport security lines….The founding fathers were not fortune tellers. When they wrote the fourth amendment, they did not foresee email. When they wrote the second amendment, they did not foresee Ted Nugent.

“In Ben Franklin’s time, the worse things were muskets and cannons. In our time, there is a portable atom bomb that weighs 51 pounds There are people who know how to build it. Do I want the NSA spying on them? You bet I do.

“There are now ten bills to modify or repeal the Patriot Act in Congress. At least we are talking about it. I’ve got to give the credit to Ed Snowden…Before, the NSA was just another government agency that no one paid attention to, like Congress.

And that is telling it like it is.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Showtime’s Web Therapy "Relax Reboot Revenge" #301

by Catherine Giordano

 "Fiona! The Musical"

Fiona’s baaack and Showtime’s got her. And I can’t get enough of her deliciously wicked humor.
Steve Carell on "Web Therapy" playing Jackson Pickett

Season 3, episode 1, of Web Therapy begins with Fiona at a tropical resort, just her and her computer.  And some guy she picked up and spent the night with, Jackson Pickett (played by guest star, Steve Carell.) They are having a video chat with lots of coy double entendres.  Jackson appears smitten; Fiona appears annoyed that Jackson has misinterpreted their night of casual sex. Jackson is in the room with her, sitting next to her, but she insists they communicate by video cam. It’s a figurative way of keeping her distance.

Next, Fiona video chats with Franny Marshall (played by guest star, Megan Mullally). Fiona wrote an autobiography, sold the rights, and has lost all control over the property which is now being turned into a Broadway musical named “Fiona!”  (And we know how much Fiona hates to not be in control of everything and everyone.)

Franny is the composer/lyricist who is writing some deliciously bad songs for the show, song which portray Fiona in a very bad light. Fiona keep suggesting the show should go a little easy on her.  Maybe she is bad, but in the end, the she will be seen to have a heart of gold. Franny seems oblivious to Fiona’s discomfort as she explains there will be no tired clich├ęs in this show—Fiona will be really and truly bad right up to the very end.

Fiona also has a video chat with her former assistant, Jerome, who has left her to work for her mother Putsy Hodge, who has set up a service to compete with Fiona's’s Web Therapy. Putsy’s service is called “Net Therapy. Fiona sputters that her mother can’t just steal her idea to no effect.  What makes it worse is that throughout the call the phone at Net Therapy is ringing off the hook. To Fiona’s chagrin, her mother appears to be far more successful with online therapy than she is.   

Finally, Fiona chats with Gina Sparks, her ditzy former co-worker who was about to reveal some damaging information about her before Fiona manipulated her out of the country and right into the arms of her extremely wealthy Scottish lover, Austen Clarke (played by guest star, Alan Cummings). Gina announces she is now in a family way and Austen joins her on screen to say that they will be married.

Gina leaves and Austen explains to Fiona that he is only marrying Gina so his heir will be legitimate and he wants things to continue between them as before. Fiona is calmly asserts that he will be married and so their affair must end. One small question for Fiona: Weren’t you still married to Kip when your affair with Austen began?  Oh, never mind--Fiona really didn’t mean it--it was just part of her manipulation of Austen. Austen tells her that he has bought her a penthouse in New York City. “Is it in my name?” she coyly asks. Austen assures her that it is in her name and Fiona relents.

Austen tells Fiona that he will divorce Gina as soon as the baby is born. Gina returns to the screen and Fiona tells her that she could get a pre-nup and ask for $75,000 upon the divorce. Austen tries to offer $100,000, but Gina is so thrilled with the $75,000 that she doesn’t hear him.  Every time Fiona manipulates Gina it backfires on her.  This is the “how-will this-come-back-to-bite-Fiona-in the-posterior” moment of the week.  

Web Therapy is apparently the hot show to be on. Lisa Kudrow, the star and producer of Web Therapy, gets some amazing “gets”. Three A-list guest stars in one show!  You have got to get this show.  A recap just cannot capture how delightful this show really is to watch.


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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

HBO’s Newsroom “The Genoa Tip” #12

by Catherine Giordano


Use Your Words

During HBO’s The Newsroom, episode 12, airing on July 21, 2013, Mackenzie McHale, throws a drink in Will McAvoy’s face. She walks into the bar where he is sitting alone having a drink, and for no reason that I can discern, she grabs his drink and throws it in his face. (This the “not-again” moment of the week and a nice variation on Mackenzie’s habit of smacking people.) An exasperated Will shouts at her, “Use your words!” 
There are plenty of words on The Newsroom, and they are great words as long as the words are about the news. The show does a wonderful job of exploring issues and giving us an understanding about how news is covered on TV. The problem is the words put into the characters’ mouths when they are talking about their personal lives.

Margaret is continuously immature, inappropriate, and implausible. Last season, Margaret had a public meltdown in the streets, screaming out the details of her life. It was captured on video and has now been posted to YouTube. Margaret’s boyfriend sees it and asks her to move out of his apartment. In real life, she would probably lose her job too. Instead, a co-worker, Sloan, who is only slightly less addle-brained than Margaret, helps Margaret track down the woman who posted the video and try to bribe and/or intimidate the her into taking it down. They are not successful.

However, the part of the show that dealt with the news was beautifully done. The episode dealt with the Troy Davis execution, the beginning of the Occupy movement, and the killing by drone of Anwar Al Awaki. The issues are discussed and the show explores how the news should cover stories like these. The Troy Davis story is particularly well done---you must see this episode just for this part of the show.

There is also a fictional news story (at least I think it is fiction) about a top secret government covert action named “Genoa”. The news team is investigating a tip concerning the use of sarin gas in Pakistan to take out a suspected terrorist which killed many civilians in the process. It fits in nicely with the true drone story because it makes us think: “Is this where we are heading? How far will the United States go to take out terrorists in the Middle East?

I have some advice for the show-runners. Drop all the story lines that deal with the personal lives of the characters. Only show us the characters in their professional roles (acting professionally, please). Remind us about the recent important news stories and the issues around them, but don’t be so heavy-handed with the specifying.  Give us the behind-the-scenes glimpses into how a news show operates. In other words, use your words to give us good stories that inform us and make us think.
  
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Showtime's Dexter "Scar Tissue" #804 "Bubbling Up"

by Catherine Giordano

The plot is bubbling over on Showtime’s Dexter, season 8, episode 4, titled “Scar Tissue,” that aired on Sunday July 21, 2013. Most seasons we get only one or two serial killers for Dexter to stalk and eventually kill. For this last season, we get a new serial killer every week. Who knew Miami is such a hotbed of serial killers?  
Dexter and Debra take a car ride before a fateful turn.

Dexter hasn’t even dispatched last week’s killer whose cuisine favors human organ meats, and he has another one to deal with. This week the serial killer is AJ Yates who currently works as a cable installer. He seems to be just a normal guy, but Dexter is stalking him, he sees him remove his hat and is shocked to see that Yates has a scar on his scull that matches the skull carving pattern of “The Brain Surgeon.”  Dexter eventually get’s into Yates’ house and discovers a shoe closet displaying women’s shoes—only one shoe of a pair. Dexter lifts some partial prints from the shoes so he can check the prints for a match to dead or missing women.

Dexter doesn’t know it, but Yates is also in the house, in his basement lair. A young blond women is down there with him, obviously passed out from torture, or maybe dead. Yates also has surveillance cameras throughout the house so he can see Dexter’s every move. (Two small questions:  Why doesn’t Dexter notice the cameras, and why wasn’t Yates’ car present to tip Dexter off that Yates was at home?)

Yates silently creeps up the stairs with a knife intent on murdering the intruder, but he retreats when he hears Dexter talking to Vogel on the phone. It appears that Yates retreated specifically because he discovered a connection between Dexter and Vogel. Is Yates another one of Vogel’s “creatures”?. We have one clue: Yates tells his blond victim, “She has found herself a hero.”

After Dexter has confirmed that the prints from the shoes are a match for dead or missing young women, Dexter returns to the house with killing on his mind. He finds that Yates has apparently left in a hurry, leaving a lot of stuff behind, but taking the shoes. Dexter sees a sliver of light under the door jamb and goes down into the basement to investigate. He is rummaging through Yates’ stuff when he hears a thump. The sound came from a tool cabinet in the room. Dexter finds a woman inside, stabbed and left for dead. However, since she was crammed into the cabinet, the pressure of her legs against her torso had stopped the bleeding. Dexter ties her up in the same position and takes her to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, where he drops her off and escapes without being seen.

Dexter returns to the house with Vogel. They discover plenty of evidence that Yates is “The Brain Surgeon” including tools and an instruction manual “Brain Surgery for Dummnies.” (Just kidding about the manual, but they did find a chart related to brain anatomy.) 

They also discover a computer with a folder for Vogel's patient files. How did Yates get them? Vogel claims not to know. Even more damning, Dexter finds a file with Vogel’s  notes about him dated two weeks earlier. She describes Dexter as an unfeeling person who only thinks he has feelings for Debra. Dexter boils over with rage when he sees this evidence that Vogel has been treating him like a “lab rat.” He vows to have nothing more to do with her. After he kills Yates, of course.

Yates has a father in a nursing home. Dexter sneaks into the home, and calls Yates from the home’s phone pretending to be a staff member. He tells Yates that he needs to come right away because his father will die within a few hours. When Yates arrives, Dexter tries to inject him with his customary sedative, but Yates sees him and there is a struggle. Yates pulls the plugs from his father’s oxygen tank in order to set off the alarms and bring the nursing staff to the room. Yates escapes out the window; Dexter hides behind the door and escapes while the nurses have their backs turned, the nurses reconnect the old man to the tubes keeping him alive.  

Vogel has been treating Debra for PTSD. She has brought her back to the container where she killed LaGuerta. She is making Debra relive the events of that night over and over to desensitize her and to show her that she had no choice. “You will always choose Dexter.” she tells Debra.

The treatment seems to be working because Debra has simmered down and is looking and acting like her old self. The newly calm Debra goes to the police station and tells Dexter she wants to talk to him. Dexter is very happy that Debra is no longer freezing him out. They go for a ride in Dexter’s car and Debra tells Dexter that she has found a tape of Vogel in session with their father, Harry. On the tape, Harry is seen to be distraught because he came upon Dexter in the midst of a grisly killing. Despite his years as a police detective, he couldn’t stomach it. Debra asks Dexter if their father killed himself. Dexter confesses that he found out a few years ago that their father had not died of a heart attack, but instead had killed himself. Harry’s suicide had been covered up by his cop buddies.

Suddenly, Debra reaches over and grabs the wheel of the car, turning the car off the road and into a lake. This is the “does-suicide-run-in-the-family” moment of the week. The car is beginning to sink and we see both Debra and Dexter, unconscious inside the car. A man who happened to be nearby fishing in the lake, jumps in and pulls Debra out of the car and gets her back to shore. Debra comes to just as the car is covered over by the water. We see the air bubbles rising .and Dexter in the car, still unconscious.

Suddenly, Debra dives into the water, swims to the car, dives under, and pulls the still unconscious Dexter to safety.

This was an Interesting turn of events for me because this type of scenario was on my mind. Just before I watched this episode, I was wondering if the series will end with Debra and Dexter as a murder/suicide or a double suicide. After Dexter left the nursing home, he thought, “To save his own life, Yates was willing to take his fathers’.” Is this foreshadowing for something Dexter might do? Dexter thinks he is better than Yates when it comes to family. Is he?
  
That is the trouble with knowing that this is the last season. I’m watching the show with thoughts of the end bubbling up and, thus, everything that happens on the show is seen with the impending end in my mind. 

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

HBO Real Time with Bill Maher #290 “Smart-Stupid People”

by Catherine Giordano

HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”, episode 290, airing on July 19, 2013 was a slog. Except for Dan Savage, who was the special guest, the guests were dull. Bill did “new Rules about “smart-stupid people.  Some of the guests, like Dan Savage, are super-smart smart people. 
Dan Savage wore a red shirt on the Bill Maher show to "gay it up" 
Dan is best known as a sex columnist and for founding the organization “It Gets Better,” to help gay youth cope. He has a new book of essays, American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics. (Click on the link to learn more about the book)

Dan spoke about his husband of 20 years and their teen-aged son. The child was adopted as a baby. This gave Dan his opening.  “I’m going to keep inseminating my husband, because anything is possible with God.” Everyone laughed except for Grover Norquist, who had an expression of angry condemnation on his face. He’s definitely smart stupid—in his case, I think he says stupid things on purpose. It’s his brand.

Dan’s son by the way, recently came out as straight, thereby proving wrong the canard that gay parents make their children gay.  

Dan’s other really terrific line last night was about fidelity in marriage. A gay couple has the highest rate of infidelity, a male/female couple is second, and a lesbian couple has the lowest rate. “It’s not gayness that leads to infidelity,” Dan concluded,” It is dick.” Men are less likely to remain faithful.  Dan shattered another myth about gays being promiscuous—it is not because they are gay, it is because they are men.

Another panel member was the afore-mentioned Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.” I call him “One Note Norquist. No matter what the topic, he’s talking about taxes being too high and Obama being a really bad president. Give it a rest, Norquist. You are boring.

Another panel member was Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian, journalist, and political commentator. She was the liberal on the panel. She was a little too shall I say “enthusiastic.”  It made me think she had ADHD; she spoke loudly, rapidly, and animatedly—a lot of finger wagging.

The third panel member was Connie Mack, the former Republican senator from Florida, now a lobbyist. (What else?) I can see why he was a successful politician—he’s smooth.  He gently deflects any question that is contentious and speaks in banalities.  He is as laid back as Jebreal is fiery.

During the discussion about Obamacare, Bill brought up the fact that Congress repealed Obamacare for the 39th time. Bill pointed out that the health care insurance premiums had come down by half in states like California where people want the plan to work. One-Note Norquist insisted Obmacare should be abolished. Savage retorted, “So you want to drive the costs back up.” Mack said, “It kills jobs.” Bill refuted that with facts. Savage said, “Obamacare was the conservative Heritage Foundation’s plan but as soon as it came out of the black man’s mouth, conservatives were against it. We need single payer! “  (I say, “amen.”) Bill said, “It was Bob Dole’s plan.” Norquist gut all huffy. “Bob Dole was no Ronald Reagan!”  Jebreal excitedly chimed in, “Ronald Reagan raised taxes eight times.” And then the discussion moved to a new topic.

The interview was with John Hargrove, a former trainer at Sea World who has collaborated on a documentary, Blackfish. He was very low key and spoke about how he feels the marine animals are abused. “What right do they have to take the lives of these whales for our entertainment and to line the pockets of the corporate owners.”

Bill began his monologue with comments about Obama’s speech about race earlier in the day. (Another history-making speech by Obama, delivered extemporaneously and without advance notice during a routine press briefing with Andrew Card. A black guy popping up like that”, Bill said, “Good thing it wasn’t in Florida.” Bill mentioned that Obama said that he had personal experience with women clutching their purses around him. Bill said, “That was just last week at Fox News.”

Bill also joked about George Zimmerman and the people who say he is not really free because he will always have to be looking over his shoulder for some vigilante who might want to kill him. (Zimmerman’s brother said this on TV without any sense of irony.). Bill did not miss the irony. He said, “Yeah, people might see an obviously guilty man and want to take matters into their own hands.” Then he joked that Zimmerman would end up on Fox News with a show called “Stand Your Ground with George Zimmerman.”

The comedy segment was about the Pope’s tweets. Pope Frank (as Bill likes to call him) is now on Twitter. If you follow the Pope, you get time off from purgatory. (This is the” is-this- for-real?” moment of the show.) Bill gave us some joke tweets like “red shoes go with everything. #infallible)” and “ Who wore it best? #be honest” (The latter has a picture of the Pope next to the retired Pope, each wearing their robes.) and “Listening to confession right now. Like I care. Yada, Yada, Yada. Five Hail Marys. #OpusDayJob)”

In New Rules, Bill did on riff on “smart stupid people”. For instance, a neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander, wrote a book, Proof of Heaven, because of visions he had while in a coma. Bill said, “He made a day trip to heaven. No dude, you were just tripping… That was not heaven, that was a Lunestra commercial.” (Click the link to learn more about the book.)

He mentioned that Arthur Conan Dayle was a surgeon and wrote the Sherlock Homes stories, but he believed in fairies. William Mckenzie King was Canada’s Prime Minster for 22 years and spoke five languages, but he believed that he could talk to the spirits of dead Irish Setters. Dr. Ben Carson was a neurosurgeon who performed the first successful operation to separate conjoined twins joined at the head. Discussing how a smart doctor can be so smart and so stupid at the same time he suggested a duality, “He doesn’t just operate on conjoined twins. He is one.”
  
Bill saved his most vicious attacks for members of Congress. It seems there are a lot of “know-nothing” doctors in Congress and for some unknown reasons they all happen to be ob-gyns. One thinks the earth is only 6,000 years old, one thinks that women can’t get pregnant from a rape, and so on.  The fact that they are ob-gyns led to a joke—if we want people who have had their head between women’s legs, why not Congressman Michael Douglas?  (You have to remember what Douglas said about his throat cancer to get this joke.

Bill, by the way, is “smart-ass smart” and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Friday, July 19, 2013

HBO Newsroom Episode 11 “First We Kill All the Lawyers”

by Catherine Giordano

Kill This Show

 
The first episode of season two of HBO’s “The Newsroom” was aptly titled “The Greater Fool.”  This episode is title" First We Kill All the Lawyers."  I say put these fools out of their misery and kill this show.

The show has new writers for season two. The plan to fix this show with a great concept, but a flawed execution. They have not fixed the show.

MacKenzie is still going around slapping people. Margaret still behaves like a whiny child and she and Don are still having their on-again/off-again romance—currently off.  Jim is still lovelorn, letting his work decisions be governed by his school boy crush for Margaret. Sloan is still in the grip of her school-girl crush for Don, making a fool of herself as she corners him in hallways to either profess her love or try to explain away her foolish behavior at their last encounter. Neal is still so eager, and so bumbling, as he tries to prove himself in the newsroom. Leona is still the tough-as-nails CEO of a business empire who is governed by the bottom line. And McAvoy is still the cynical, world-weary, with a heart of gold, news anchor who is so professional on screen, but an ego-driven mess the rest of the time.

Do you get where I am going with this? Every character is a stereotype. No character is believable.  All the workplace romances are so unprofessional and bordering on sexual harassment.  These characters belong on a sit-com—give them some funny lines to say  and it would all gel.

As I watch this show I have so many "I swear-I-can-sense-the-embarrassment-the-actors-feel-playing-these-characters" moments.

I don’t know how long I will continue to watch. The plot is a convoluted mess. The characters are so unrealistic that I don’t care about them. The show is even worse than it was last year. At least last year they had the polemics, which were sometimes fun and informative. They seem to have dropped them for season two.

Last season I had fun making fun of the show. This year I just feel sad.





Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Showtime's "Dexter" #803 "What's Eating Dexter Morgan"

by Catherine Giordano

“Eat Up”

Showtime’s Dexter, Season 8, episode 3, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan” that aired on Sunday July 14, 2013, is feeding the audience’s appetite for the macabre.  Hence, I’m titling this review “Eat Up.”

Debra and Dexter Morgan
Dexter is in a tailspin. A police officer finds Debra passed out drunk in her car having crashed into a parking meter. He recognizes her but fells obligated to arrest her. At the station, Debra calls Quinn who comes down to the station to get the charges dropped.  Quinn has been dating Jamie, Angel’s sister and the nanny for Dexter’s son Harrison. Jamie is jealous of Debra since Quinn used to date her. She is none too pleased when she finds out that the middle-of-the-night-call, which Quinn told her was for work, actually came from Debra.   

The next morning Debra, eaten up with guilt, goes into the station crying that she wants to confess that she killed LaGuerta. Quinn grabs her and takes her into an interrogation room to try to calm her down. He is convinced that she only feels guilty that she couldn’t save LaGuerta; he could never believe that she actually killed LaGuerta. He tells her to write her confession down while he leaves to call Dexter.

Dexter arrives with Dr. Vogel. Dr. Vogel explains that Debra is suffering from survivor’s guilt. Debra is still hysterically insisting that she killed LaGuerta so Dexter injects her with a sedative. Quinn doesn’t see this, but Vogel does. Vogel is impressed with how prepared Dexter is. They tell Quinn that Debra passed out, and Dexter flings Debra over his shoulder and all three leave.

They go to Debra’s house and Dexter drops Debra onto the couch. Vogel insists she can treat Debra. Dexter handcuffs Debra to the couch explaining that Debra is going to be pissed, and perhaps violent, when she comes to.

As Dexter investigates Vogel’s prior patients to find which one might be the Brain Surgeon, he looks into Ron Galluzzo. He goes to his house which is a mess except for the dining room and kitchen which are immaculate. The dining room table is elaborately set. Dexter removes the lid from a  crock pot that is simmering on the counter. He fills a ladle for a closer look, and sees a human finger. Dexter is revolted. He opens the refrigerator. It is also very neat and clean. It is also filled with containers labeled liver, kidney, intestines, etc. There is also a container with a human brain marinating. Dexter looks ready to vomit. This is the “even-a-serial-killer–has-his limits” moment of the week. Galluzzo is going to be on Dexter’s kill list, for sure.

Should Dexter be trusting Dr. Vogel?  She is entirely too unflappable. She is fascinated by serial killers and weird people in general.  She is especially fascinated by Dexter—her creation. It’s like she has him under a microscope as she keeps probing.  Why didn’t he kill Debra when she found him murdering Travis?  Why does he love Debra?

We have also learned that Dexter’s father thought that “Only kill the evil ones” should be Rule Number One of the code. Dr. Vogel insisted that “Don’t get caught” should be Rule Number One.

I don’t know if Dexter should be trusting his sister to the remedies of Dr. Vogel. She has a very bizarre collection of patients. Does Dr. Vogel have a case of vicarious thrills, is she a voyeur of criminal acts, or is it more sinister than that?
   
A sly bit during this episode is when Dexter is woken up in the middle of the night by Harrison’s cries of “Daddy”. He gets up and follows the sound, seeing what looks like a trail of blood. He finds Harrison sitting in the kitchen in what looks like a pool of blood. We are reminded of the time Dexter found Harrison sitting in a pool of blood in the bathroom with his mother’s dead body floating in the bathtub, the water red with her blood. However, this time it is not blood—Harrison has eaten an entire box of red popsicles and he has made a mess because some of the popsicles have melted. We and Dexter both are very relieved that Harrison was only crying because he had a tummy ache from overeating.

The Miami police have found Lyle Sussman’s body, only he is no longer hanging from a meat hook as he was when Dexter found him.  When the police find him, it looks like a suicide with a gun blast to the head obscuring the puncture wound to the head.  He blew his brains out—a fitting end for the “Brain Surgeon.”  Only he isn’t the “Brain Surgeon”—he was only a man forced to do the brain surgeon’s dirty work.      

In the meantime, Dexter and Vogel are both still receiving little gift packages of brain.   

The show runners are feeding us clues and we, the voyeurs of the audience, are eating it up.

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