500 Words about (500) Days of Summer

Perhaps the best way to describe (500) Days of Summer is to explain what it is not. Right at the outset, the unseen narrator warns, “This is not a love story.” But you may not be prepared for exactly how much it’s not a love story. This is not a standard-issue chick-flick tale of a klutzy cute girl who stumbles into a nice guy, or a drop-dead gorgeous career woman who figures out that her job is distracting her from her heart; and nowhere is there a grumpy man-child who must learn to grow up to get the girl. In a reversal of the usual tropes, Tom instantly falls in love with Summer, who openly declares her disdain for the very concepts of love and relationships.

(500) Days is a chick-flick for guys. It reflects a guy-centric view of one specific relationship. Told in a piecemeal fashion resembling the random recollections of a drunken buddy, the audience gets the gist of the story of Tom and Summer by glimpsing moments both large and small from all along the timeline of their relationship. The story careens madly from the middle of their story to the beginning to its end (?), stopping at key points along the way. An onscreen counter helps the audience keep track.

The movie hinges on the casting — especially Summer — and the producers lucked out by landing the enchanting Zooey Deschanel. Beautiful without being intimidating, she nevertheless is stunning enough to convince as someone who could instantly captivate Tom. Deschanel has an approachability that makes Summer seem real. Joseph Gordon-Levitt aspires to more of an everyman as Tom; he’s the kind of guy who knows he’s out of his league with Summer and cannot believe his luck. (Speaking of which, the sudden dance interlude set to “You Make My Dreams” is like something out of a Bollywood musical – and if that doesn’t bring back Hall & Oats, nothing will!)

This is not to suggest the film is flawless. Tom’s annoying 12-year-old sister, Rachel, whom he consults for romantic (and life) advice is a ridiculous crutch. Her old-soul philosophizing belongs on some inane sitcom, where a laugh track can punctuate her precociousness. And Tom has buddies direct from central casting: the obnoxious, oblivious boob who thinks he’s a ladies’ man, and the henpecked big-talker with no game.

But the shining jewel of the movie is blue-eyed Deschanel, and her brilliance shines through Summer. Some might interpret the role as underwritten because we never really understand why she seems like a commitment-phobic rom-com guy. We never get a Hollywood explanation for her sudden suggestion that she and Tom break up (That’s not a spoiler; it’s the jumping-off point of the movie). Nor do we understand her other romantic moves. Summer says she just woke up with a feeling one day. She’s simply inscrutable. For better or worse, to men, that’s what women are like.

Shakespeare asked, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” How about 500 of ‘em?

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Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/13/09

The lead-up Lizzie and Bill’s wedding today on GUIDING LIGHT was a near thing — nearly too over-the-top with its silliness. In one of those “everything that can go wrong does go wrong” scenarios, the Lewis wedding day imploded: the band canceled, leaving Bill with a couple of CDs and a boom box, and there was a ludicrous mix-up with the flowers (how could any professional florist believe a bride would order bulbs for her ceremony?) that left Lizzie holding a handful of shabby blooms. And the kicker — the invitations had the wrong date. This last bit was biggest stretch. Ashlee selected the date during a televised news conference, and Lizzie has been Lizzie obsessing for the last month over how little time she has, and keeping a day-by-day countdown. Sure, everybody likes to see a little drama and misfortune on the road to happiness, but c’mon! This crossed the line into fantasy badness. Bizzie were actually reduced to catering their own reception with Pringles and a cake cobbled together from Twinkies!

Luckily, GL had an extreme remedy for the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune: a pal who went above and beyond. Dinah pulled together an impromptu outdoor ceremony for Bill and Lizzie that was moving in its simplicity and grace. Okay, so Reva and Jeffrey also got married outside in a potluck ceremony. But now ad-hoc weddings can be GL’s signature. With the show being canceled in September, everyone can hitched in a massive, spur-of-the-moment ceremony on Main Street (natch!), presided over by Father Ray and defrocked Rev. Josh.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/10/09

I know what you’re asking: “Joe, is there an unscripted show you hate even more than AMERICAN IDOL?” The answer is, “Why, yes, of course — lots of them!” Most alleged “reality shows,” like JON & KATE PLUS 8, are beneath contempt and I refuse to sully my TV screen with them. However, of the shows I can force myself to watch, BIG BROTHER is certainly at the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps it’s the premise: 12 strangers living in a house together. On most other unscripted series, the contestants live together and it’s just another minor component of the series, not the entire point of the show. Or, perhaps it’s the host: Charisma-free Julie Chen imbues even the most mundane statements — from tossing to commercial to announcing a contest — with the same sense of grave portent as reciting the Ten Commandments. And her halting delivery makes William Shatner‘s stuttering cadence sound normal. No, I know what it is: BIG BROTHER’s sense of entitlement gets me. It’s not just Chen — the entire show is full of itself. The phoniness started with the opening sequences, in which the contestants supposedly were presented with their keys to the house. They all acted surprised — in front of the cameras. Why did they think they were being filmed? Once they got to the house, everyone lost their mind over the “super-delicious” house. Is indoor plumbing still that rare in 2009? Later, right after saying, “Expect the unexpected,” Julie told the houseguests that, as usual, there is a “twist.” How is that “unexpected”? It’s just the same ol’ garbage. And I’m not looking forward to watching it fester on my screen.

On a vastly more interesting and considerably more fun note, BURN NOTICE gave us a rollicking little tale of industrial espionage and spy-hunting spiced up by Michael and Fiona doing a sort of mating dance. She wanted him to commit to her (by taking her to dinner), while he preferred to concentrate on getting his job back. What I like about their complicated relationship is that they openly acknowledge that they care for each other, it’s just tough to make a relationship work while dodging bullets and bombs. He doesn’t dally with a new girl every week, and Fi gave up trying to make him jealous with that hunky EMT last season. In the end, Michael tossed the relationship in her lap like a live grenade: He wants to get back in the game, and if Fi really cares about him, she will want that, too. Good thing Fi is a whiz with explosives.

ROYAL PAINS featured a number of familiar faces this week: Susan Misner (ex-Alison, GOSSIP GIRL; ex-Grace, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) as a pregnant woman who wanted to induce on a private island; David Alan Basche (ex-Kenny, THE STARTER WIFE; ex-Mike, LIPSTICK JUNGLE) as her tycoon husband; James Rebhorn (ex-Henry Lange, ATWT; ex-Bradley, GUIDING LIGHT) as the island handyman; and Jason Kravits (ex-Dr. Brody, AS THE WORLD TURNS; ex-DA Bey, THE PRACTICE) as a smarmy doctor at Harbor Heritage. Hank got a chance to MacGyver a splint for Will, saline solution and do blood-typing with a mirror. He also drilled into a guy’s head with a half-inch bit to relieve a hematoma! (The drilling was fine, but I did not need to see that compound fracture to his leg! Yikes! Still, even that was better than watching the pathetic “wedgie” competition on BIG BROTHER…

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/9/09

Holden, Holden, Holden. Dude, we gotta talk. You’re supposed to be one of the heroes of AS THE WORLD TURNS. And heroes do not take advantage of lady friends when they are drunk and vulnerable. Hell, forget “heroes,” even regular guys have no business taking advantage of smashed friends who are not in control of themselves. There was no way you should have kissed Carly. Don’t even bother trying that “she kissed me” line. She may have initiated the smooch, but you hung in there and enjoyed it for a bit before breaking the lip lock. You clearly understood her condition; she showed up potted at your house, stole a bottle of your booze, and asked you to go to the liquor store to fetch her a refill. Hell, she was so wrecked she couldn’t even stand! It doesn’t count that you eventually broke the kiss and said, “We’re not doing this.” You did do it. And that makes you a loser. Carly came to you for help. She needed you, and you needed to restrain yourself. Okay, you (eventually) did the right thing by summoning Jack, so you do win back some points. But the next time a gal pal is on the rocks, be a man and deal with her straight up.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/8/09

It would be too easy to create a list of “10 Things I Hate About 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU,” but I will limit myself and boil it down to three points:

1. There are no characters on this show, only stereotypes. A beautiful, snotty Head Cheerleader. The Geek who worships with the social-climbing Pretty Girl. The requisite Bad Boy who literally rides a motorcycle. Really?
2. “Empowered” sister Kat immediately sees through Patrick’s broody B.S., yet falls for his act anyway. Clichés win out every time — what kind of “empowerment” message is that?
3. The tasteless wheelchair punishment.

To be fair, I will include two things I liked the show:

1. A few good lines of dialogue.
2. It was only about a half-hour long.

Sci Fi .. .um, I mean SyFy’s new series, WAREHOUSE 13 fares a little better in the “Can we please shoehorn in one new idea?” sweepstakes (but not all that much better). The idea is that there is a warehouse in South Dakota that holds all the mysterious relics and weird objects collected by the U.S. government over the years. Think of it as the facility where the Ark of the Covenant was sent at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or the place you’d store the freaky stuff Mulder and Scully found on THE X-FILES. Two Secret Service agents were assigned to joined eccentric Artie as caretakers of the repository, and retrieve any magical articles that somehow go missing and cause havoc in the outside world. It certainly is derivative of any number of other TV shows (including the old FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES), but perhaps the-powers-that-be were shooting for “homage.” I was bored by the pseudo Mulder/Scully dynamic; honestly, you two, just knock boots next week and get it out of the way. And the “mystery” of the relic was waaaay to slow to unwind in the second hour (yes, the second hour). But eccentric Artie (Saul Rubinek) started to grow on me, and I loved the steampunk aesthetic of the warehouse’s technology. Artie’s computer keyboard, the bulky two-way video box and Tesla’s electric gun were all brilliant strokes. If TPTB can dig more Victorian tech out of “America’s Attic,” then WAREHOUSE 13 might avoid being shelved.

As usual, there was no shortage of original thinking on RESCUE ME, thankfully. The guys brought the ladder truck and Suburban to the hospital to cheer up the cancer kids. But Tommy ended up getting into a heavy conversation about life, death and the nature of hope with one of the kids, who was convinced he was going to die. The kid appreciated that Tommy didn’t try to sugarcoat his grim reality. Leave it to RESCUE ME to handle the specter of death in such an off-kilter manner. Death + kids is not always a crowd-pleaser, but it sure made an impression. But before the scene got too depressing, one of the other kids hijacked the rig and set off a merry chase, with poor Lou clinging to the outside of the cabin as the truck careened madly down city streets. Hmmm, was that a metaphor for life itself?

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/7/09

So, the way I saw it, ALL MY CHILDREN’s Randi was clearly defending herself from a would-be rapist when she brained DA North. Even if she had killed him, it would have been a case of self-defense, and she would have been cleared of any homicide charges. The fact that she fled without trying to clean up the crime scene would have worked in her favor, demonstrating a panicked reaction. (Okay, it would have been messy to have to explain to Frankie why she was in North’s room — but hey, it’s better than lethal injection!)

Of course, Randi’s hasty exit provided an opening for Madison to swoop in. And who know if anyone else wandered in after the scorned woman appeared to get her licks in? In any event, by the time Randi returned, North was dead. Let’s hope the autopsy is thorough enough to reveal there were (at least) two blows, and the coroner bothers to tell the investigating officer that a subsequent impact was fatal (unlike the similar situation on GENERAL HOSPITAL, where amateur sleuth Robin figured out what Brianna’s autopsy report only hinted at).

Just because Randi has a shady past does not mean she isn’t a good girl now or that the chief of police (husband Frankie’s daddy, remember) wouldn’t believe her. But then again, I guess she’s a (former) hooker with a heart of gold, not a mind like a steel trap.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 7/1/09

I almost don’t know what to write about this week’s harrowing episode of RESCUE ME, which left me totally shaken. The tone of the show whipsawed wildly from sweetly zany to gruesome to blackly comic to sad to sentimental. Watching it was like enduring an emotional pummeling.

The episode kicked off with Sean dreaming up a variation on Singin’ in the Rain, with himself as Gene Kelly, singing and dancing — while coughing constantly. It turned out that he was choking because Uncle Teddy was holding a pillow over Sean’s face, trying to put him out of his misery. (Apparently Teddy learned his lesson well at the VA hospital!) From that comic interlude, viewers went with the Engine 62 crew responding to a traffic accident, where the hardened firemen were horrified and sickened by the sight of the broken and burned corpse of a little girl. Only Tommy was able to approach and gather the tiny body parts in a blanket. The rest of the crew was in awe of his dedication to the job. But was it courage that enabled Tommy to do his duty, or something that was broken inside him when his own son, Connor, was killed by a drunken driver? Is he that disconnected from his basic humanity? The central question of the entire five-season run — what makes Tommy tick? — was finally addressed directly when he settled in with some booze to watch home movies. In short order Tommy was visited by the ghosts of his dead son, dead cousin, dead brother and dead father. It was dad who spelled it out: Tommy is the best firefighter ever because he’s completely dead inside — “the original Iron Man” — he has no feelings anymore, and no tears left to cry. Tommy decided to test the theory by burning a hole in his leg with a blowtorch! His skin cracked and blistered, and it hurt like hell, but he did not cry.

Later, the guys were visiting Sean at the hospital when they spied some “cancer kids.” A nurse told them not stare at the kids with sad faces, because it upsets the children. While the rest of the group shambled away, Tommy went into the cancer ward and chatted up the kids, smiled and even read to them! For the second time, the guys were thunderstruck by Tommy’s interaction with children. But instead of proving how cut off Tommy is, might I suggest that Tommy’s compassion for the sick children was exactly the same emotion he demonstrated for the mutilated little girl at the beginning of the episode? And that Tommy is not as alien as he fears he is? Just because Tommy cannot cry does not mean he’s no longer human. In his own way, Tommy’s disconnect lets him make the world a little bit better place.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 6/30/09

MAKE IT OR BREAK IT made a big leap forward with its second episode. I’m not prepared to say this ABC Family series is going to…er, make it, but among the things it did right: evoking the late, lamented EVERWOOD with “Rocky Mountain” establishing shots that looked suspiciously similar to the Utah locations used in the earlier series; and focusing on giving the characters some personality beyond their stock types. True, these are just baby steps, but viewers got hints about why hard-driven Payson was so upset with Marty leaving, and why Lauren would expose best pal Kaylie’s secret affair with Carter. Note to producers: Spend the time to bulk up Lauren’s character, because a good villainess can carry a series. Lauren should sink her hooks into Carter and let the fur fly.

I like the small doses of Peri Gilpin and Brett Cullen as Payson’s strangely well-adjusted parents. However, Susan Ward (ex-Meg, SUNSET BEACH) is not well-served by her flighty, silly character, the clueless Chloe. Chloe spotting Ronnie Cruz smooching Marty (Erik Palladino, ex-Malucci, ER), mirrored Emily catching Ronnie’s daughter Kaylie kissing Carter the week before. Like mother, like daughter (in both cases), eh?

I must be getting soft, because I also didn’t dislike NURSE JACKIE so much this week. The voice-over is still too droning, but Zoey seemed dialed back a lot, Apparently Eddie isn’t being replaced with a machine right away. But the whole encounter with the school counselor, nurse and teacher left me shaking my head. Good thing they didn’t analyze drawings back when I was in grammar school.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 6/29/09

We got another double-shot of the imported British series MERLIN this week, and it has made good on its promise and developed into a solidly entertaining series. The writing is strong, but the casting and acting is even better. Colin Morgan makes Merlin awkward without turning him into a buffoon, while Bradley James’ Arthur seems to be a snob purely because it’s expected. He is already showing hints that he will be a king more concerned with justice and fairness than rules and ceremony.

As strong as the dialogue and characterization have been, the plotlines are a little too concerned with the use of magic. Last night’s first episode dealt with Gaius and Merlin trying to cure a magical sickness, and the second dealt with finding a cure for a magical poison. I think the stories could have been spaced out a little more, eh? I did laugh when Gaius told Uther that his “scientific process” pointed to magic as the source of the plague ravaging Camelot. Michelle Ryan — best know to American audiences for her starring role in last year’s aborted revamp of The Bionic Woman — made her debut as the series’ Big Bad, the witch Nimueh, and she certainly showcases the seductive side of evil. The best line of the night honors went to King Uther, for insisting that while Merlin’s life isn’t “worthless,” it’s “worth less” than Arthur’s. Still, Uther is portrayed as an officious jerk, because I guess parents just don’t understand, no matter what century they’re in.

In the great tradition of British SF/fantasy series (like the pre-2005 version of DOCTOR WHO), the producers of MERLIN had absolutely no money for special effects, so poor James was forced to scowl and wave his sword in the air when Arthur was supposed to be fighting the afanc water beast and the cockatrice in the woods. I guess the costumer could not afford a shield, either, so the-powers-that-be dropped the tradition of the cockatrice’s gaze turning people to stone. Petrification isn’t free, people!

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 6/26/09

You gotta love today’s AS THE WORLD TURNS (well, as long as you didn’t see the CBS promo that totally bankrupted the big reveal about Riley, that is!). The shocking ending was very well-done. Margo happened upon Col. Mayer holding a gun on Riley, so she she pulled her weapon on him. Mayer turned around… and simply shot Margo! There was no talk; no gloating about his master plan or revenge or blah, blah, blah. Mayer got the drop in her — and dropped her! That cold-bloodedness made sense for Mayer, who is always depicted as pure evil. So of course he would give no warning. That’s the kind of schadenfreude too often missing from GENERAL HOSPITAL and its cartoon violence.

This was a return to form for ROYAL PAINS, with Hank cobbling together a “MacGuyver” contraption of tin foil, hair dryers and assorted kitchen supplies to save the life of a chef who suffered a thrombetic stroke. Callie Thorne seems to be carving a niche for herself and the go-to actress to play randy women. Best-known as RESCUE ME’s calculating and predatory Sheila, Thorne showed up in the Hamptons as a chef who wasn’t shy about…er, getting things cooking with her lover in the walk-in. Hank and Jill finally got cooking, themselves, and kissed on a romantic beach picnic.

Originally published on SoapOperaWeekly.com