Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’
All the great shows ask big questions. Mad Men made us think “Can people really change?” The Wire wondered “Can the system be saved?” And tonight, Empire asked “Is Alicia Keys talented and gorgeous enough to convert a gay dude?” According to Fox’s smash-hit soap, the answer is yes! The series has already had a wild second season, but this week’s installment — “Sinned Against” — was the daffiest hour to date…and it was sealed with a kiss.
Last week on Ash vs. Evil Dead, the show put its unique splatstick spin on Hellraiser. This time out, it took on the Monkees’ Head. The Pre-Fab Four’s film, a free-form psychedelic-era artifact (written by Jack Nicholson!), is as good a touchstone as any for the far-out trip Ash J. Williams went on this week — that, or the “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” dream sequence from The Big Lebowski. Our working theory was that tonight’s episode, “Brujo,” was going to offer AvED’s version of New World witchcraft. Instead, it showed us El Jefe’s brain on drugs. As the man himself might put it: Groovy.
I reviewed this past weekend’s Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone. This show is really a hoot.
Then there’s the rap battle itself. To be honest, Hakeem’s defeat of Freda felt like something of a mercy killing, since the young MC’s storyline was a rare case of a plot element on Empire that never quite worked. Granted, the character was supposed to seem ill at ease in the Lyons’ high-powered world, but that out-of-place vibe affected how it felt to watch her as well. Compared to her convincingly sullen demeanor and angry outbursts, the idea that she had a take-on-the-world hunger to rival that of Lucious and his family never came across on screen. She always looked like someone who’d be much happier just battling on the streets where the mogul found her.
If you’ve watched more than a handful of horror films or TV shows, you know the ugly truth all too well: There are a million ways to make a denizens of the netherworld completely boring to watch. So praise the Lord and pass the ammunition: Ash vs. Evil Dead knows how to do it 100-percent correct. What this Starz continuation of the venerable “splatstick” franchise understands is that when it comes to the genre, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel — sometimes simply building a better mousetrap will do.
When it comes to Lucious Lyon, there’s no separating the man and his music. The character plays like a parody of pretentious, tempestuous artistes — people who use every triumph and tragedy as fuel for their work and their bad behavior. No wonder stepping into his mind is like watching a Behind the Music episode. In a series of dramatic flashbacks, we discover the shocking origin of the gunshot sound effects that drive the mogul’s tailor-made collaboration with young upstart Freeda Gatz: That’s the noise his bipolar mother would make while playing Russian roulette. This raises two major questions. First, given Lucious’s erratic behavior, is he beginning to suffer from the manic mood swings that plagued both his mom and his son Andre? Second, if that’s the secret behind “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” is there a similarly shocking truth behind Hakeem’s “Drip Drop”?
Is it premature to declare the birth of a whole new TV-show genre? Tonight’s Ash vs. Evil Dead episode — “Bait” — boasts more gore-soaked scenes than half a True Blood season and better gags than the bulk of the broadcast networks’ fall comedy line-up. What do you call the result? Action, drama, sitcom, horror — none of these feel quite right. It’s some high-octane hybrid of all of them, and it pursues a single purpose with all the relentlessness of the reanimated dead: to entertain the living shit out of you.
When was the last time the end of an episode of a television show made you laugh with delight? If you’re an Empire viewer, chances are good this is a regular occurrence. And if you watched tonight’s installment, it probably happened to you about five minutes ago. Cookie Lyons shows up at the house of her hot new security chief Delgado to finally set their slow-burn sexual tension alight; the guy takes off his shirt to reveal the longhorn-cattle brand that marked her son Hakeem’s kidnappers. And boom! A sex scene turns into a plot twist without missing a beat, or a thrust. It’s yet another “oh, shit!” moment of the sort that’s made the Fox soap so damn entertaining, week after week after week.
I reviewed tonight’s episode of Empire for Rolling Stone. This show is such a blast.
But the show’s biggest selling point is neither a dick joke nor a Deadite — it’s the director. As a filmmaker, Sam Raimi brings every weapon in his arsenal to shooting this thing: kinetic but clear action-sequence editing, off-kilter angles, whiplash-inducing camera movements, and that signature evil’s-eye-view high-speed tracking shot. He has one of the few directorial styles that really does merit the ubiquitous comparison to a rollercoaster, although in this case you’ve gotta move down the midway to another attraction: the haunted house ride. The episode lurches and careens, stops short and speeds up, and always seems to have another jump-scare just around the corner. It’s all so gleefully gonzo that you forget this gentleman has helmed some of the biggest mainstream blockbusters of all time. Watching Raimi work his magic on the small screen isn’t just entertaining, it’s inspiring — a sign that TV really can do whatever it wants, and that the only obstacle is that no one bothered to try before.
I’m covering Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone this season, starting with last night’s premiere—a mixed bag, especially the writing, but with much to recommend it.
3. Hannibal (2013-2015)
How the hell did a show as visually audacious, narratively perverse, and mind-bogglingly gory as Hannibal wind up on the Peacock Network? Before its unceremonious and unfortunate third-season cancellation, Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s series of serial-killer novels — starring cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and his arch-frienemy, FBI profiler Will Graham — was nothing short of a horror lover’s fever dream. It treated murder as performance art, peeling away the flesh and gristle of the human body in sensuous, spectacular slow motion to expose the heart of darkness within. In the process it made pretty much every other Prestige Drama look like a student film. As the Phantom of the Opera once said: Feast your eyes, glut your soul.
I counted down the Top 25 horror tv shows of all time for Rolling Stone. Who’s number one?
What’s an empire without a few martyrs? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Andre Lyon’s born-again Christianity hasn’t cost him anything more than a few tense moments with his family — yet. But when tonight’s episode — “Be True” (as in the Shakesperean “To thine own self…”) — dunked the eldest of Emperor Lucious the First’s three sons in the baptismal font, it also put him in the hot seat.
I forgot to link to it the other day, but I reviewed last week’s transitional episode of Empire for Rolling Stone.
We live in an era of all-or-nothing politicization of fandom: Every show and every star is treated as either ideologically flawless or irredeemably evil. Empire knows it’s not that simple. It speaks to the issues, knowing that’s the duty of all art. But it also sees how easy it is to pass off schlock and kitsch as grand statements, and holds itself to a higher standard in that regard than any fan or critic ever could.
As a wise man once asked, “What’s a king to a god?” For Lucious Lyon, anyway, the answer is clear: jack shit. As the focus of much of this week’s episode of Empire — titled, with the show’s typical level of chill, “Fires of Heaven” — the artist/mogul/murderer acts like a recording-industry Zeus, throwing thunderbolts at his hapless subjects below.
I reviewed this week’s fantastically entertaining Empire for Rolling Stone. Here’s the thing about this show: While watching this episode I found myself thinking “This is so good at what it does it actually makes me nervous, because a soap opera with no obvious flaws is some uncanny-valley shit. Surely it’ll screw up! When will it screw up? I must know!” It’s true, though. Empire is neither pretentious nor insulting, neither snidely campy nor self-serious, neither overshooting or undershooting the mark, neither crass nor sanctimonious, neither dull nor overindulgent, neither a guilty pleasure nor an attempt to make you feel like you’re secretly eating your vegetables. It’s just, like, exactly right. It’s hard to wrap my mind around.
Like the castaways of Oceanic Flight 815 themselves, no one involved in the making of Lost had any idea how the journey they were about to take would change everything. Under the watchful eye of ABC executive Lloyd Braun (who was fired before his instant smash even reached the screen), hotshot director-producer J.J. Abrams, up-and-coming writer Damon Lindelof, and TV veteran Carlton Cuse crafted an endlessly unfolding puzzle box of sci-fi-inflected mystery, mayhem, sex appeal, and smoke monsters — set on a deserted island that became a character in and of itself. More than the often ridiculous theories fans generated to explain the show, it was the pulp thrills, the strong, diverse cast, and the fantasy of leaving your bad old life behind no matter the cost that made this show a pop-culture phenomenon. People are still debating the show’s loose ends, red herrings and divisive finale today.
How fast does Empire move? So fast that it has to cleave the screen in half just to keep up. After a season premiere that proved the show hadn’t missed a step, Fox’s raucous ratings juggernaut maintained the pace, opening with a split-screen montage of the ousted members of the Lyon clan — Cookie, Hakeem, Andre, Rhonda, and sometimes Anika — making plans for a rival label on their phones without breaking stride. Part Pillow Talk, part Brian De Palma potboiler and all batshit crazy, it was visually audacious, narratively appropriate, and fun as all hell.
I reviewed this week’s Empire for Rolling Stone. You know it. And you know it. And I know it. You know I know it.
Empire’s first season thrilled its gargantuan audience because it solved many of the problems endemic to catfight-filled melodramas without jettisoning the genre’s pulpy pleasures. The New Golden Age of TV has seen its share of “prestige” soaps, most notably Downton Abbey and Mad Men, but those shows dressed the suds up in respectable period drag. Meanwhile, more gleefully trashy fare like True Blood, Desperate Housewives, and Gossip Girl had a tendency to get stretched thin by overextended casts and peripheral storylines so pointless that you could barely remember the details after the cliffhangers and commercial breaks.
From the beginning, Empire did things differently. Creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and showrunner Ilene Chaiken keep the focus almost entirely on the nuclear (meltdown) family of musical genius/magnate Lucious Lyon and his formerly incarcerated but equally astute ex-wife Cookie; you could count the scenes in which either they or one of their three children (bipolar businessman Andre, semi-closeted singer-songwriter Jamal, and ambitious m.c. Hakeem) failed to appear on two hands with fingers to spare. No worries about superfluous scenes here.
Meanwhile, calling the series fast-paced would be like calling Usain Bolt a champion jogger. This is a show in which a minor character once shot a guy, got arrested, went to jail, and had people complaining “I can’t believe he’s still locked up” in the space of 12 seconds. (We counted.) There’s never a sense that we’re stuck a holding pattern of boring bullshit to kill time until the next big moment — it’s all big moments, one after another, with only the genuinely catchy original musical numbers for a breather.
It’s game time, bitches: I’m covering Empire Season Two, starting with tonight’s premiere, for Rolling Stone.
Best Actress in a Drama, 2015
The Lineup: Claire Danes (Homeland), Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder), Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Tatiana Malsany (Orphan Black), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Is this the strongest year for actresses in Emmy history? We say yes. The range of genres and tones represented by 2015’s nominees is crazy wide, with prestige dramas, smash-hit soaps, political potboilers, sci-fi imports, and postcards from Shondaland standing shoulder to shoulder. The performances are equally varied, equally strong, and virtually indispensable for their shows: Can you imagine an Empire without Henson, a Homeland without Danes, or an Orphan Black without Malsany? Even if you could, why would you? For women actors on television, this really is a New Golden Age.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Mad Men (AMC)
Orange Is the New Black (Showtime)
WILL WIN: A failure to award Matt Weiner’s masterpiece Mad Men one more time before it heads off to the big Coke commercial in the sky would be almost willfully perverse. If its most direct points of comparison — Weiner’s alma mater show The Sopranos and its AMC brother-in-arms Breaking Bad — could pull off the final-season win, the house that Don Draper built can do it too.
SHOULD WIN: Never mind the naysayers: Mad Men is an all-time top-five television show and deserves the trophy for its melancholy, valedictory suite of final episodes. That said, no series on TV thinks bigger or strikes harder than Game of Thrones, though it will take the departure of both itsBad/Mad rivals for it to finally take home the gold.
ROBBED: The biggest drama here may well be the shows that didn’t make the cut. Showtime’s uncompromising psychodrama The Affair took home the Golden Globe but didn’t even manage a nomination. FX’s political thriller The Americans gets better and better seemingly with every episode but has yet to garner a nod, even as its weaker counterparts Homeland and House of Cards keep racking them up. Fox’s ratings behemoth Empire was a way more entertaining soap than Downton Abbey’s sagging fourth season, while Boardwalk Empire’s morally merciless final episodes trumped it in the period-piece department. The Marvel/Netflix joint Daredevil was the best live-action superhero-comic adaptation since Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 (eat it, Chris Nolan). And NBC’s violent visual fantasia Hannibal made almost everything else on TV look like a public-access show.
I wrote up my Emmy predictions for Rolling Stone, though my favorite part of the assignment was writing about all the deserving actors and shows who were robbed of nominations to begin with. So much good TV out there, people.
Best Actor in a Drama, 2013
Whether you were in the market for sirloin stake or a big fat ham sandwich, there was plenty on the menu to choose from this year. Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston did their usual phenomenal work on Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Damian Lewis elevated sometimes shaky material as triple-agent Marine-turned-terrorist-turned-informant Nicholas Brody on Homeland, a role for which he’d won the previous year. But the victory of Jeff Daniels as The Newsroom‘s bloviator-in-chief Will McAvoy was all the more bizarre because of the slightly less top-shelf alternatives available to voters, if that’s what they really wanted. Why not, say, go for Kevin Spacey, who gave great hambone and drawled his way through House of Cards? And if it was fusty and blustery but ultimately good-hearted you wanted, Hugh Bonneville’s take on that template as Downton Abbey‘s Lord Grantham was altogether more appealing.
I wrote about the biggest surprises in recent Emmy history for Rolling Stone. Spoiler alert: 2007 was crazy, man.
For all that, the season still exerted a strange sort of magnetism. The endless overhead shots gliding over L.A.’s knotted freeways, the many quiet closeups of its main characters as they did nothing but sit and smolder, the sinister thrum of the electronic score overseen by T Bone Burnett – put it together and you get a rhythm and vibe unlike much else on TV right now. Even at its most frustrating, TD often felt like a show smoking a slow-burning cigarette under a streetlight at 3 a.m., a momentary oasis of chemical calm with nothing but trouble and turmoil on either side. Many series that are much better in every other respect would kill for that kind of palpable atmosphere.
But atmosphere alone isn’t enough to save a show; it can just as easily smother it like smog. Many of the season’s visual and sonic strong points gave off an air of impending doom, but when doomsday arrived the payoff couldn’t justify all that time spent sitting around waiting for it. So you’re left with flyover glimpses of roads that didn’t lead anywhere, or portraits of people so visibly exhausted and immiserated by their lives that the feeling becomes contagious. When you’re dealing with a mystery as murky as this one was, that’s just not enough fuel to power you through.
The score was 10-1 in favor of the Staten Island Direwolves by the time he grabbed the mic and took the field, but George R.R. Martin was there to warn the boys of summer that winter could still be coming. “If they can only hold on for another couple innings,” the man behind the Game of Thronesphenomenon said, “I won’t have to kill another Stark.” The crowd roared. And when the live arctic wolf accompanying him took a dump near the third base line a few seconds later, they roared again.
From top to bottom, Saturday’s “Meet George R.R. Martin Night” at the Staten Island Yankees’ scenic Richmond County Bank Ballpark was a weird, wild event. With the Lower Manhattan skyline shining in the distance, a record crowd of 7,529 turned out to watch the minor league team, renamed the Direwolves for one night only, take on the Hudson Valley Renegades while wearing custom House Stark and House Lannister uniforms. Direwolf swag and autographs from the A Song of Ice and Fire author himself were available on a first-come, first-served basis. It was a star turn for the author, who’s been catapulted to celebrity status by the success of the HBO series based on his novels.
But for Martin himself, it was a time for wolves. His appearance was a fundraiser for New Mexico’s Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, a non-profit rescue facility for the animals at the heart of his epic-fantasy saga – hence the beast who befouled the infield. The team cut the charity a surprise $10,000 check and launched a benefit auction of the custom jerseys. In the process, they enabled fever-dream sentences like “George R.R. Martin attends a Yankees farm team’s Game of Thrones-themed ballgame on Staten Island to raise money for wolves” to actually make sense…more or less.
Strange shit, but Martin’s seen stranger. “It’s pretty weird,” he told Rolling Stone, “but it’s only like a seven on the weirdness scale. That company that came out with leggings with my face on them? That’s up to a ten.”