Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Burn Notice: “Long Way Back”

6 August 2009
by R.A. Porter


For two seasons, I’ve found myself in the awkward position of complaining when my second favorite event on the annual sports calendar comes around because USA would preempt Burn Notice for two weeks. When USA lost the broadcast rights to the US Open to ESPN, the knowledge that Michael, Sam, and Fi wouldn’t be interrupted was the only comfort. You see, ESPN does shitty tennis coverage whereas USA has done kickass work for twenty years.

And then I found out the summer finale was in August anyway. Aarrrrgggh!

Alright. That’s out of my system. The gang will be back in January-ish so tonight’s episode, the episodes I have saved on the Tivo, and seasons one and two are all I’ve got to tide me over. Will it be enough?

Tonight’s episode alone might do it.

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Leverage: “The Fairy Godparents Job”

5 August 2009
by R.A. Porter


We talk all the time but it never feels like you’re actually sharing anything. As great as you are, there’s always a mask. I just don’t know who you really are, Katherine.

Bernie Goddamn Madoff. He takes our money, insults our legal system, makes the sick sicker, and the poor poorer. Turns out he (or someone just like him) also treats his stepson like crap and plots to kill hapless FBI agents. Special Agents Taggert and McSweeten return for their third appearance on Leverage and almost get killed for their efforts.1

Tonight the team stretches itself thin as it steals a school. That’s a tough one but they succeed because Nate knows the one true rule of dealing with the rich and powerful: force them to doubt their mastery. By holding himself out as a recognized authority with a book and method that is well known and revered, he challenges the fuming parents to risk looking ignorant by standing up to him. It’s a basic trick of the conman, salesman, hustler, and writer and works best against the people who should be the least credulous. After that, the rest is gravy.

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  1. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at this great interview with Gerald Downey and Rick Overton, who play the agents, in ifMagazine. []

Burn Notice: “Friends Like These”

30 July 2009
by R.A. Porter

burns3e08I apologize again or my absence the past couple of episodes. But this was a pretty good one to come back to.

Michael’s existence has changed a lot over the past two and a half years. From a closed-off and guarded loner, he’s learned to trust and care about other people in ways that had long been submerged. He’s still broken. But who isn’t? His sexy flirtation with Fiona in the pilot wasn’t about compassion or concern: it was about the raw physical passion between these two lovers. His early interactions with Sam were awkward, even after Sam’s deal with the Feds was in the open. And let’s not forget his idiot brother and insane mother, right?

Except that’s not who those people are. Madeline loves her son, Sam is a loyal friend, Nate really does try, and Fi…well Fi wants Michael’s heart and soul. Have they all changed or is it that as Michael has changed, his perceptions of those around him – and the reflected perceptions we see – have changed? I’d argue for the latter.

I’m not implying this is the authorial intent. These relationships really have matured over time, as a function of the writing and the performances. But try looking at the show as if it is truly and completely Michael’s journey and we are merely passengers seeing the world unfold before his eyes. In that case, we should expect the world he sees/we see to change in ways both small and large. Miami might appear larger and less restrictive. Madeline more nuanced and human. Sam more loyal.

In The Last Temptation of Christ, when Lucifer shows Jesus the world he could have if he faltered – a long, happy life in a verdant world – he tells Jesus that Israel has always been a garden and he had failed to see it as such. On one hand, this is Lucifer’s attempt to tempt Christ, so we know he’s pumping up the saturation of the colors a bit. On the other, we know that Israel is a land of desert and of forest and of gardens and of beaches. Throughout the rest of the film, Scorsese shows us only the desert aspect. Even at the final Seder, in the GARDEN of Gethsemane, the land is dusty and sere. Our perception of the world is intentionally Jesus’ perception.

I suggest looking at Burn Notice in the same vein. See Miami as though we see it through Michael’s eyes. See his friends and family the same way. He is changing.

Which makes his deal with Strickler that much worse.

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Leverage: “The Order 23 Job”

29 July 2009
by R.A. Porter

leverages2e03A dirty, rotten, no good hedge fund manager? I’ve never heard of such a thing!

Tonight’s mark, Eddie Maranjian, was a hedge fund manager of Armenian descent who, naturally, preyed on the weak and walked off with their money. The team is pretty sure he’s got at least $400K liquid stashed away somewhere and offers to help one of the victims. But this is no straight con.

Eddie’s on a plane to a minimum security Federal prison in Florida in an hour. Either the team has to crack him – while guarded by US Marshals – before then or delay his departure. Nate notes that Eddie had a bottle of germ killer at trial and quickly riffs out a plan to delay and crack Eddie at once.

Humor aside, tonight’s episode reminded me most of a classic Mission: Impossible. In a short time the team needs to convince a mark of something wholly untrue to get him to turn over his money. While the cons on the show are usually of short varieties, they are still generally normal cons. The game they played on Eddie by taking him away from all other contact was more on the order of psyops.1 And it was a lot of fun to watch.

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  1. This episode is close kin to last season’s “Comrades” episode of Burn Notice. While watching, I was reminded of the games Sam and Michael played on Ivan to turn him, fundamentally twisting his view of reality. []

Leverage: “The Tap-Out Job”

22 July 2009
by R.A. Porter

Christian Kane is in the spotlight this week with his meatiest episode since last season’s “The Two-Horse Job”. And while that episode gave us a picture of his past, this one does more to show us the struggle that pushed him to leave home to begin with.1 Eliot’s impassioned defense of MMA to Sophie told us more about the man he is and why he would choose to keep doing good than all his prior conversations combined.

This was a good one. Keep reading to see how good.

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  1. Like Martin Blank, I imagine Eliot decided one night that he’s going to kill someone and got out of town fast. []

Leverage: “The Beantown Bailout Job”

15 July 2009
by R.A. Porter

leverages2e01Bad things happen to good people. And on TV, interesting bad things happen to and/or near main characters. Timothy Hutton – and by extension Nate Ford – only has a few years on me; perhaps in the next decade or so a sabotaged car will career toward me and flip in the air, landing feet away from me. I can hope.

Significantly, while the inciting event for the second season premiere of TNT’s Leverage stretches plausibility, everything that follows is organic and believable. It doesn’t matter how outlandish the start as long as the succeeding drama is real.1

In my preview of the new season I discussed the general situation of the Leverage Group: cast to the four corners at the end of last season, they’ve all been adrift and purposeless. The thieves no longer get a thrill from crime, having been infected by Nate and his push to do good. As for Nate, he’s on the wagon (and living above a bar) about to take a staid and very boring job at a Boston insurance firm when he runs.

Just as the rest of the team has been cursed to want to do good, he’s been cursed to seek out the thrill and can’t stomach the thought of cube life. On his way to drown his sorrows, Kerrigan’s sabotaged car flies toward him. Nate doesn’t move. He’s consigned to his fate, whatever that might be. But when the car lands he jumps into action, alive and still kicking.

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  1. Alright, maybe a little stretchy, but close to believable. []

Leverage Season Preview

13 July 2009
by R.A. Porter

After last season’s very big, very destructive finale, the Leverage Group disbanded and went to the four corners. Their operation was in ruins and their names and faces were exposed to the authorities by Jim Sterling; going underground was the logical move.

We return six months later in Boston. Nate has accepted a job working in insurance again and is being taken on a tour of the company’s offices when the walls close in and he runs. Runs right into a case made for the team, if only he were interested in getting the band back together.

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Dark Blue premieres on TNT

13 July 2009
by R.A. Porter

darkblues1previewI’ve been a fan of Dylan McDermott since way back. Back when I couldn’t quite keep my Dylans and Dermots straight1 I still knew when I saw him that I’d probably enjoy whatever he was doing. I put up with The Practice long past its DEK half-life,2 when it had degraded into a self-referential stew of inanity, because of his dark, brooding charm.

So I was looking forward to his take on a broken cop, walking the line between law and lawlessness in LA’s dark underbelly with a good deal of anticipation. That, despite coming from Jerry Bruckheimer and a slew of his disciples – five executive producers and a co-EP. I knew it would be slick and fast and loose with reality but hoped McDermott would keep it afloat.

TNT has done a good job to this point of rolling out shows that fit tonally. Even when they broke the pattern of “woman tougher than the men around her” shows to air Leverage, it wasn’t with a deep, dark show. This time I think they’ve pushed the envelope a bit much, as this makes a very uncomfortable pairing with Leverage on Wednesday nights.

But how was the show?

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  1. I’m not the only one. []
  2. The number of episodes it takes until half the ideas are still original and half are rehashes of Ally McBeal and Picket Fences story lines, a value calculated by telephysicists at Fermi labs using science to be 21 episodes. []

Burn Notice: “Signals and Codes”

9 July 2009
by R.A. Porter


My name is Michael Weston. I’m an actor. When you’re a busy actor you’ve got a lot. Cash, credits, job history. You’re stuck working in whatever city they decide to film in. Like Miami.

Out from the shadow of the Paxson arc, Michael’s back to trying to find his way back into the Company’s good graces. Fortuitously, he is tracked down by a slightly anxious, slightly overwrought, slightly…oh, who am I kidding. He’s batshit. Spencer is the ever popular trope of the brilliant mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia.1 He sees patterns everywhere and is able to track down Michael for help with a little alien/spy/treason problem.

Weston vs. Westen is a hoot and I’m happy to see the writers left plenty of room for Spencer’s return. Because tonight was fun.

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  1. I swear, one guy goes crazy and has Russell Crowe play him in a movie and all mathematicians are suddenly crazy. []

Warehouse 13 premieres on the network with the stupid name

8 July 2009
by R.A. Porter


It was a big night for The Syphillis Network.1 They debuted their new name in the morning, ran their interminably long promo which looks like every other promo they’ve produced for the last five or six years, and premiered new summer series Warehouse 13. Sorta one out of three ain’t bad.

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  1. Yes. That will be the only way I’ll ever refer to them henceforth, unless I somehow got a staff job on one of their shows. Pick a juvenile name; suffer juvenile taunts. []
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