It was nice to see that the Golden Globes seemed to share the wealth last night, and gratifying that the trophy distribution seemed worthy as well as diverse. I had very few problems with any of the announced winners (go Spike Jonze, go both Amy Adams and Poehler, go Steve McQueen and co., go Brooklyn Nine-Nine), but that doesn’t mean I watched the show either. No, I normally have three big DVR days per week: Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. When I have enough to say about the prior evening’s programming, I’ve decided I’ll wrap my thoughts up into a semi-regular feature and post it here. It should hopefully be a breezy enough read. I love episodic television, and reading about it, but definitely not reviewing it myself. I’m simply not seasoned enough a critic, nor do I keep meticulous enough track of storyline, show history and universal themes to come up with hundreds of fresh words on each new episode. But from time to time I will have something to say, and I’ll say it in this spot. Spoileriffic sections will be clearly marked. And, by the way, the column name is definitely up for review. I just needed to quickly think of something to call this inaugural edition.
NFL – Carolina Panthers vs. San Francisco 49ers (FOX)
Ridiculously chippy game in which both teams started off playing excellent defense. But Carolina’s inexperience on the big stage showed in myriad ways (awful turnovers, costly penalties keeping drives alive, being stopped twice on 4th and goal from the 1-yard-line, too much talking and poor decision making in general) and the 49ers were able to play efficient, largely mistake-free football and pull away in the second half. Once Carolina relinquished the lead just before halftime, the end result was already in sight. Walking grievance and possession receiver extraordinaire Anquan Boldin had a huge day as QB Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target. The 49ers just look locked in at the moment, and would seem to have the clear momentum going into a seriously enticing NFC Championship showdown against their division rivals, arch nemesis and, depending on who’s doing the commentary, evil twin/doppelganger, Seattle.
NFL – Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers (CBS)
The Broncos dropped a disconcerting number of open passes and, not coincidentally, almost the game, running up a 17-0 lead before the world’s most mature pee-wee league QB, Philip Rivers, put in his bid to lead a comeback for the ages. With a head of steam, a sense of urgency conspicuously absent the previous three quarters, and the help of an awesome on-side kick recovery, the Chargers almost pulled it off, but were denied in the end. The natural order of things thus restored, the NFL gets its own personal “adults-only” dream of an AFC Championship, as Peyton Manning faces Tom Brady in a game that will also, in theory at least, feature their respective teams, whose names escape me at the moment but who cares? It’s Brady vs. Manning! As I join the world in breathless anticipation for next Sunday, my main takeaways from yesterday’s AFC game linger: Half a dozen dropped balls (DEN); Seemingly several dozen off-sides penalties (SD); and at least 3, and, if memory serves, 4, full on “come on guys! Jeez!” tantrums (complete with demonstrative arm flailing and the occasional kick at nothing in particular) from Rivers, who had entertaining problems with clock management and lining his team up correctly all day long. It’s as if capital-D Destiny finally took a good long look at the team it’d been left with, recoiled in appropriate horror, and quietly folded.
Downton Abbey – Series 4, Episode 2 (PBS) minor SPOILER ALERT!!!
I doubt I’ll write much about Downton in this space from week to week, in part because, even as I love the lush production design, a handful of the characters, and the show’s pervasive awareness of both history and occasion, so little actually happens on the show, and that which does is either a death or a birth or a wedding, or a hilariously failed wedding, or, again, a birth, or, most recently, a death. The show hasn’t handled scandal or conspiracies of silence well since season one, but it may get its chance again soon. A rather stark and awful incident befell one of the handful of beloved characters I mentioned above late in this week’s episode, and, besides being a novel and incredibly jarring standalone narrative device on what is normally such a straight-laced series, its repercussions seem destined to ripple throughout the rest of the season. Savvy readers and viewers of drama can possibly predict the incident without me having to recount it here, so I won’t, but I will mention the top notch acting, by all involved – the prinicipals, the conspirators and the bystanders – which was immediate, properly measured and very affecting. As Downton creeps ever closer toward the Roaring Twenties and dips a toe into the pool of a rapidly changing society, it’s interesting to juxtapose those external concerns with potentially explosive internal ones for once. If high station has its privileges, and it obviously does, how far does that privilege extend? Can it be used to legally subjugate a perceived lesser man, or insulate you against righteous vengeance? Tragedy’s a brewin’ at the very least, which is a great change of pace. Normally all that’s brewing at Downton is afternoon tea.
Bob’s Burgers – “Presto Tina-o” Season 4, Ep. 10 (FOX)
Bob’s Burgers routinely comes up with episode ideas that might be signs of pronounced creative weariness on a different show (animated or not), only to elevate them via the voice performance and perfectly-pitched behavior of the titular Belcher clan. Eldest daughter Tina spent the show’s early years on the sidelines as the show found its footing, but has developed over the past year into its clear MVP. Tina is a wonderful mess – awkward but weirdly confident about herself, naïve and sheltered and a fearsome daydreamer, verbalized brilliantly by Dan Mintz in a matter-of-fact monotone that belies the epic adolescent struggle raging within her. In this episode, a “Young Magician’s” contest descends on the town for some reason, and as Bob begins an ill-equipped battle of wits with its master magician emcee, Tina vies to become an assistant in love as well as magic to her longtime unrequited beau Jimmy, Jr., who would really rather just dance. Bob’s Burgers loves and respects these characters and allows them room just to behave naturally, and the great little touches are myriad, from Tina purchasing a book on sabotaging magic tricks called “When Doves Cry”, to doting mother Linda weirdly comparing Tina’s straightjacket escape to impending nuptials only she can see (“All this white! It’s like your wedding day!”), to Tina proudly asserting her “middle name is Danger”, though she spells it R-U-T-H. Doesn’t matter how thin the concept, Bob’s Burgers has the characters, and more than the requisite belief in them. It’s appointment viewing, and hilarious to boot.
Game of Thrones – Season Four Trailer (HBO)
Available now on youtube, there’s really no need to further hype this, but here goes anyway. Every prominent body left alive at the end of season three puts in an appearance: Daenerys enthroned and threatening, Tyrion in chains and questioning, Joffrey in denial and brooding, Jon Snow in command and sword-slinging, Arya practicing, Lannisters squabbling, Melisandre being sinister and opaque, dragon shadows, warring Wildlings, Bran touching a tree. Catacombs! Ominous Pyres! People dying oh so very often! It all works like gangbusters for me. I’m only halfway through reading the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire, but GoT season four will focus on the second part of book three. Of particular interest to longtime fans would seem to be the introduction to the series of Oberyn Martell, “The Red Viper of Dorne”, seen here striding halls confidently and dropping cryptic threats. It has the appearance of an action-packed season on what has traditionally been a dialogue-packed show. In that way, among others, the show mirrors the books. Here’s hoping the quality we’ve come to expect is on full display as well.