Thursday, April 06, 2006

Catching Up on My Stories

In TV news, we have a major development here at the ranch: we got DVR! Time Warner finally sent a highly competent and very nice man to fix our cable Internet connection -- which he did! -- and I asked him about fixing the TV cable.

Amazingly, DVR is only $4.95 a month and you don't have to buy the box, which I believe makes it quite a bit cheaper than TiVo (did I capitalize that right?). You can do any variety of things, including pausing and rewinding live TV, not to mention you can set it to record a show, and then start watching it while it's still recording. Apparently, everyone in our area is getting DVRs, so I wonder how this will affect ad revenues. (Ever handy with a remote, I can get through most commercial breaks with a high degree of accuracy in about 10-15 seconds.)

Thus it's time to catch up on my various stories -- which is mainly the few shows I still have time to watch:

The Shield: I knew that season finale was going to be something, but man. They took it to a whole new level and hit it out of the park. It was pretty obvious Lem was gonna buy it, and, at one point early on, I consider the possibility that Shane would kill him just for a moment before waving it away.

Then, before you know it, there's Shane, the first one to meet up with Lem, right away taking him to another secret location that the others don't know about. And that wonderful long scene, all the slow takes, where it becomes very clear in its underplayed way that Shane is going to do it -- just a matter of when, and how. And that last moment, when he gives Lem the sandwich, and Lem is so happy for those seconds to finally have something to eat before he's seen what Shane did, and the rest of us -- thinking Shane was going to shoot him -- have to figure it out as Shane walks away -- and then the explosion.

There were some intensely resonant echoes to earlier moments in the series. I particularly liked when Shane sat in his truck -- having gone to get the sandwich, and also the grenade, which he had to steel himself to use -- a nice mirror to the moment at the end of season 3 when Lem sat alone in the van for that long moment, deciding to go on his own and burn the money.

And then there is the murder itself, paralleling Vic's murder of Terry Crowley at the end of the series' very first episode. Vic and Shane have now each killed one of their brothers in blue to protect each other. But Terry was already cooperating with the feds, while Lem was firm about resisting Internal Affairs. And, of course, Shane was a witness to Vic's act; Vic has no idea what Shane did, and if anything wanted to protect Lem and keep him alive.

The Shane-Lem scene was one of the most intense and harrowing things I've seen on TV in a long time, perhaps ever. I had to take some moments to recover during the commercial break. And it's a good thing I did, because then, as if the preceding scene wasn't great enough, the people behind The Shield gave us a choric scene right out of Greek tragedy.

The entire cast was there, in a spread out circle around Lem's body, still in the car. The hot young Latina probie who is a complete screw up burst into tears as soon as she saw Lem, and her sobs play in the background as Vic and the remaining Strike Team guys arrive to take in the horror. Lots of more slow takes, lit by the headlights from the patrol cars all around.

And then Forest Whitaker's Lt. Kavanaugh, unable to resist, chimes in with: "Are you happy now?" And Vic turns to him, and he says "Are you happy now, Detective Mackey?" After which they proceed to jump each other and wrestle violently before being pulled apart.

And then Vic, followed close by Ronnie and a secretive Shane, storms off, vowing, "We're gonna find out who did this, and we're gonna kill them."

And now, somehow, I'm gonna wait until January for the next fix.

24: I have to say, I think this is probably the best season so far. The writers have done a very nice job of setting up different story arcs, so they can keep building the tension without having to overly stretch out a single terror threat or resort to the implausible or ridiculous (e.g. Kim and the mountain lion, Kim and the wacko survivalist . . .).

I've previously singled out Jean Smart's fearless turn as the kooky/politically savvy First Lady. I must also sing the praises of Gregory Itzin as President Bush -- er, Logan -- always so much more concerned with his legacy and passing the buck to others; the latest twist at the end of Monday's ep will no doubt play into this (and how did the writers manage to hit so close to the truth?).

And I also have to give kudos to Kim Raver as Jack's girlfriend/wingman Audrey. I was very so-so on her last year, but she has really come into her own. I was never big on Third Watch, and Kim Raver always seemed so willowy to me, so it's nice to see her get all fierce here.

And kudos to my dad. He was saying back in Hour 2 that (if I may quote precisely) "That handmaiden knows something. She's more than just a handmaiden." (To which Mom speaks for both of us: "Since when do you use the word handmaiden?")

The Amazing Race: Okay, so maybe I am just being a pushover and not watching very much TV, but I'd say this season's race is the most exciting in a long time, the most exciting since the one where Reichen and Chip raced into history as the "married" gays.

The Race has long been the only "reality" show I can stomach, for two reasons: 1) the rules are very straightforward; it's straight-up get to the finish line first, no funky alliances and voting others off -- and, more importantly, 2) all the players enter with a pre-existing relationship.

Instead of watching strangers treat each other as social archetypes, we get duos who've known each other for a while, but probably never spent quite so much time together, and certainly not so intensely. Whether it's a couple who's married or dating, or sibling, or friends, or parent and child, you get to see a whole bunch of pairs of people as they push themselves and each other, seeing what they can do while seeing the world.

And that's even better this time around, where team after team is worth rooting for. Favorites, obviously, are those witty hippies, as well as "Married 40 Years" couple Fran and Barry (she has to be the most kickass breast cancer survivor ever).

The dentist from Mississippi (who actually says "dad-gum it") is there to annoy us, and he does, maybe even more so than he does his wife, who he is constantly belittling and "overruling." He's even ripped on Fran for not being a good doctor's wife (!) and, as my mom noted, needs to be constantly reaffirmed by his little woman.

Thankfully, they moved it back to 8 p.m. (from the late shift at 10). It's one of the few shows on network TV that families could actually watch together. We sure do here.

As the World Turns: Now, you know I said stories, so I got to include at least one actual story. Mainly I want to give the writers major props for not only having Lily and Holden's teen son Luke turn out to be gay, but even more so for this utterly delicious story line they've given him.

Remember Lily's long-lost identical twin sister Rose? (Don't worry, she died mercifully a few years ago.) Well, this teenage girl showed up, claiming to be Rose's illegitimate child long ago given up for adoption. And, moreover, she was Rose's biracial illegitimate child, raised by nuns, and named Jade.

Lily started to question why nuns would name an illegitimate baby Jade. She did research into the Catholic Church and discovered that in fact Jade is not Rose's daughter but a total lying minx!

And now this biracial orphan minx is blackmailing Luke! She knew Lily would throw her out, what with all the lying and her being a minx. And so she told Luke that if he didn't help her to stay, she would tell his parents that he's gay! Which is of course the one thing in the world he is completely terrified of doing.

So here's where it gets even more outlandish. The biracial orphan minx, now that he knows she's not his first cousin, tells him her plan: they'll have Lily catch them in bed together! This way, Lily and Holden will think he's straight, and they (Jade and Luke) can threaten to run away together if Jade is not allowed to stay.

And this is all before we even get to Luke's various health problems, what from only having one kidney, and a donated one at that. And before we even factor in the extreme fabulousness that is Elizabeth Hubbard as Luke's chemo-suffering/CEO titan grandmother, Lucinda Walsh, who simply devours every line, doing everything with her eyes, all while wearing unfortunate cancer patient wigs -- as only a true grande dame can.

And that's only one storyline. You really should be watching.


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