Monday, April 23, 2007

HBO Sunday Night Review: Entourage

Episode 37: "Manic Monday"

This week the boys find out it's hard to tell a hot agent "no"

After last weeks' frolicking, fluff-filled episode, this week we returned to the central theme of the season: the "love" triangle between Vince, his former manager Ari and his current agent Amanda.

Amanda (Carla Gugino, getting hotter by the week) is still trying to track down Vince; she's looking for an answer as to whether or not he wants to do the Edith Wharton period romance. She calls E. at 6:00 am (in her underwear-nice touch, guys) and furiously scolds him for blowing her off. "You're avoiding me and I don't like it" she barks at him, then demands a meeting with the two of them, where she expects an answer before they leave her office. Bossy little thing, isn't she?

When the boys find out they rib Vince & E. mercilessly, and Drama reminds him "doesn't she work for you, Vince?"

Ari, meanwhile, is still having problems coping with the loss of Vince. We are treated to the return of big, bad barreling Babs, who instructs Ari to fire a slacking employee, normally a task Ari Gold would attack with relish. But the new, meeker Ari is having trouble being his old, nasty, heartless self, and it's not a pretty sight, either.

In the meeting with Amanda she grills the guys about their stance on the Wharton project. Does Vince still want to do it, or is he holding out for that "ghost" project, "Medellin"? As Turtle and Drama listen outside the office to her ripping into Vince like never before, they agree to read the script one more time and get back to her by the end of the day with an answer.

"I never heard Ari talk to Vince like was kinda hot," Drama confesses.

"Hot?" E. replies. "She bullied Vince into making a decision he didn't want to make."

Ari attends a therapy session with Mrs. Ari, where the doctor (SNL alum Nora Dunn) tells him that after suffering the loss of a dear client he may just be evolving into a caring, thoughtful human being. But Ari doesn't want to be that kind of person, and when his wife says that he is afraid to go around town because he might see Vince, Ari goes off on one of his classic Gold-plated rants, berating the doctor and his wife and then stomping out of the office in a huff.

As the boys sit poolside to reread the Wharton script, Ari heads back to his office all amped up to fire the employee. But a funny thing happens when he has the guy in his office, all set up for the firing squad: Ari takes one look at his Lasic-bandaged eyes and listens to his sob story about his wife leaving him and instead of canning him he gives him...a...second...chance.

What? This is not the Ari Gold we have all come to know and love. Give this guy a lobotomy or send him to the old agents home, stat.

When Babs learns of his momentary lapse of reason, she furiously rips into him, telling him "you're not you- you're soft & weak & nice. It's disgusting. Do you want the word to get around town that you're a pussy?" Well put, Babs. And is it just me or are sexy, emasculating women becoming kind of a theme around here?

The boys reread the script and decide that it's definitely not for Vince. Now the problem is, how are they going to tell Amanda? She has a way about her that you just can't tell her no, they agree. "I'd buy diseased fish from her," Drama confesses. "I'd eat it" Turtle counters.

Ari, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, bribes the doctor's secretary to tell him where he can find her, then bum rushes her on the golf course to get some emergency treatment. He confesses that yes, he has been affected by Vince's firing of him, and it has made him lose his edge. What can he do to get it back, he asks her. She has a hard time seeing the problem, though, as it appears that the breakup has caused Ari to become a better human being. He doesn't want to change, he tells her, and she says the choice is his to make. When he rips into her and her "civil servant" husband, she tells him it looks like he's got his angry edge back, he just has to know how to turn it on & turn it off.

That was just the thing Ari needed to hear, and he immediately heads back to Miller-Gold, where the slacking employee is being given an eye test in the conference room by other agents.

"Let me see if you can read this" Ari tells him as he writes the words "GET THE FUCK OUT" on the white board. He then threatens to can anyone else not doing their job- "a 1-strike policy now applies"- and exclaims "damn that felt good" after doing so. While he struts to his office Babs inquires "what happened to you?" and he smugly replies "shock therapy" as he grabs a candy bar from a chunky staffer's hand and tells her "skip it, Ginny."

Now that's the Ari we all know and love!

The climax of the episode sees Vince & E. dining with Amanda and breaking the news to her about the Wharton pic- he doesn't want to do it. Amanda flies into a rage, inquiring why he would tell her two weeks ago that he loved it , only to turn around now and claim it's not right for him.

"It's not so easy to say no to you," Vince confesses. "It's because you're so cute."

That awkward moment leads to more ribbing from the boys as an incredulous E., while admitting that yes, Amanda is hot, tells them "yeah, but once you put it out there, everything changes."

Vince then receives a phone call that will change everything for good. It's Amanda, driving home, and she straight-up asks Vince "do you think I'm hot?" When he sheepishly admits he does, she gets even more straight with him: "I hate sexual tension, Vince, it always leads to confusion, Tell me, do you want to fuck me?"

A stunned Vince stammers that yes, that would be nice, so she tells him they need to fuck each others brains out and get it over with so they can go on to have a long, productive business relationship together. Vince readily agrees, and as he lies to the boys and says he's going out with Jewelery Store Girl, Drama tells the others "$50 bucks says he bangs her."

Now we will have some real drama, because you know how badly this thing is going to turn out- Mandy Moore, anyone? But unfortunately this probably means the end of Gugino's run on the show and the beginning of the patching up with Ari. Of course the relationship with Amanda is going to end poorly, and Ari will probably salvage the Medellin picture just in time to win Vinny back.

It was fun while it lasted, Amanda. Thanks for the memories.


HBO Sunday Night Review: The Sopranos

Episode 80: "Remember When"

Tony's pops and Uncle June; "back in the day" was the main theme of this week's show

" 'Remember when' is the lowest form of conversation"- Tony to others at his table, namely Paulie

This week's episode went back to the formula that's been applied the last couple of (disappointing) seasons: plenty of roundabout talk, not a lot of action. It's the formula that has had die hard Sopranoites, like myself, down on the show for a while, but yet in this short season you seem to get the feeling that all the small talk and loose threads are leading to something big.

While last week we saw the return of Christopher and Dr. Melfi, this week welcomed three familiar characters back to the fold: neurotic captain Paulie Walnuts, crazy Uncle Junior, and Tony's philandering libido, all falling under the umbrella theme of the week, recollecting old memories.

The ep opens with Paulie paying a visit to Tony's house early in the morning, delivering the paper and some bad news: a 25-year old murder case could come back to bite them, as Paulie tells him, Larry Barese told the Feds where to find the body of a bookie buried under a house in the old neighborhood.

As Tony and Paulie stake out the crime scene, we find out the hit was Tony's first as a member of the family; the one he "made his bones on." "What are we gonna do?" Paulie asks. "We're gonna pack our toothbrushes," Tony wearily replies.

And thus a familiar theme of this swan song season rears its head: an old, seemingly obscure crime coming back to haunt the boss, much like the 2-year-old gun charge in the first episode that caused Tony a brief case of agita.

Tony packs a bag for a trip down south to Miami to lay low for a while, a fact that Carm is none too happy about. "It's not like I won a trip to Paris" he tells a frowning Carmela. "I know, it's just that, this is what life is still like, at our ages?" she replies. That sobering thought furrows Tony's brow, and you can almost see him thinking back to last week's conversation with Little Carmine about the importance of family at this stage of their careers.

At this point we are re-introduced to an incarcerated Uncle Junior. He is in a mental health facility, but it appears that his bout of craziness that drove him to shoot his nephew may be clearing up. How can we tell this? Because he is back to being the old Uncle June, cracking dirty jokes, running an after-hours poker game and generally defying authority. This new/old behavior leads us to think one of three things is true:

  1. He was never crazy and faked it to get out of a real prison sentence.
  2. He is half-crazy and the meds are helping him regain his former self.
  3. He really is nuts.

Inside, Junior befriends Carter, an angry young Asian-American (an unfortunate choice of characters in light of recent events) who is obviously enamored with the charismatic mafioso. Junior's old cronies offer to help him escape but, after initially expressing interest, he rebuffs their offer.

This storyline really goes nowhere, other than establishing the parallel between confused Junior trying to run an empire from inside his cushy prison and the old ruthless one running the family business in his other life. The funniest part had to be how the poker game used buttons for chips and soda & candy in lieu of cash and booze. "We got Snickers, Kit Kats and Sprees" he barks at them. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Meanwhile, Tony and Paulie head South until the smoke clears. On the drive down (how hilarious was it to see them in that cheesy old minivan?) Paulie starts relating old war stories about he & Tony's dad and other nuggets of a bygone era. After Paulie mentions Ralphie and Big Pussy, Tony casually brings up the joke that Ralphie made about an overweight Ginny Sack, and wonders aloud who would have relayed that put down to her husband, the late NY boss Johnny Sack.

"Who the fuck would tell Johnny about that joke?" Tony playfully-but-menacingly asks Paulie.

"How should I know?" a visibly worried Paulie replies; as he stares out the window, he instantly realizes that his stupid little indiscretion years ago could cost him his life.

The pair agree to stop at a quaint old hotel they used to frequent somewhere in Virginia, only to discover it's been replaced by a sterile new generic chain. At a dinner of nachos and scotch next door, they reminisce some more about the old days and Paulie tells Tony how much his Dad loved him. The story makes Tony appreciate Paulie, but when they check out the next morning and Tony learns that Paulie has been flapping his gums to a guest about where they're headed, his simmering animosity towards the blabbering buffoon causes Tony's blood to rise again.

And therein lies the central issue of this episode: can Tony trust Paulie, a lifelong friend of his father whom Tony idolized growing up, or have his loose lips, irritating personality, and hair trigger temper made him an expendable member of the family?

Upon arriving in Miami, they are wined & dined by old friend Beansie. He hooks the two up with a couple of paid escorts, a connection to a gang trafficking in stolen goods, and some old pictures of Paulie, Uncle Junior and Tony's father. ("... misty, water colored memories...") But when Paulie lets slip about about a young guy who "mysteriously drowned" at a party years back, that simmering hatred for Paulie's style boils to the surface again.

A couple of minor scenes follow, with Junior and his new cohort shaking down the inmates, Phil Leotardo being spoken to like a piece of shit by new boss Doc Santoro, and Tony back to his old tricks, banging the hot blond hooker he was set up with, who over an after-sex smoke tells Tony that she thought Paulie was his dad.

"No, but there was a time that I wished he was. He used to work for my father," he tells her.

"I know, he told me," she responds.

This all leads up to a climactic confrontation between the two lifelong friends. After Silvio gives Tony the good news that Larry told the Feds that old pal Jackie Aprile offed the bookie, Tony decides to celebrate before they leave Florida by going on a deep-sea fishing trip. "I'll rent a boat," he tells Paulie. Paulie's face sinks lower than the Titanic itself. He, we, and everyone else knows the comparisons to Big Pussy's death is inescapable, and David Chase even acknowledges such when upon entering the boat Paulie has a flashback to that day he and Tony mercilessly slaughtered their friend and dumped him in the Atlantic.

The best scene of the night follows with the two of them on the high seas, drinking and fishing, as much for marlin as for clues to Paulie's trustworthiness. As the boat, coyly named the Sea Vous Play (a.k.a 'if you please'), rocks up and down on the high surf (a very unnerving effect in HD, let me tell you), Tony goes back to the insult to Ginny Sack. After a few attempts at humor fail to incite Paulie, Tony comes right out and asks him the question:

"It was you who told him, right? It's no big deal if you did," Tony inquires with that evil, Cheshire-like smile.

Paulie refuses to give in, and for a few moments the tension is as thick as the feeling of motion sickness; Tony glimpses an axe and fillet knife that could instantly end all the doubts he has about Paulie once and for all. But just then, as he watches him looking off the end of the boat, he has a change of heart and decides, like he told Beansie, that he really does love the poor schlub, as aggravating and anal as he may be.

After that Paulie has a surreal dream of Puss cooking dinner in Paulie's kitchen, and a confused-yet-worried Paulie asks him, "When my time comes, tell me, will I stand up?" Kudos for turning to the return of Big Pussy to get the chills going down our necks again, Mr. Chase.

The ending brings us to another homage to The Godfather and the days when bloody power struggles were the norm in La Cosa Nostra: a good old-fashioned gangland slaying. Doc Santoro's brief reign comes to a bloody, bullet-riddled end on a New York street, courtesy of a ticked-off Phil Leotardo, and while a medicated Junior rocks in his chair at the hospital, bloody & beaten by Carter, who turned on him, Paulie, Chrissy, Sil and Bobby sit at the Bing and watch the news about the Santoro hit when Tony walks in.

"Looks like Phil's the main guinea over there now," Sil comments.

And as Paulie's cackling voice is heard in the background, Tony rolls his eyes and wonders if he didn't make a mistake back on the choppy waters off the coast of Miami.

The theme of this year is simple: family, loyalty, and when to get out. Tony is having mixed feelings about continuing to stay in the business, especially with the Feds breathing down his neck, his cohorts keeling over left & right, and his most trusted confidantes (Paulie, Christopher) planting doubts in his mind as to their loyalty and ability to keep the business strong.

Uncle Junior's recovery is going to play a major role in what happens down the line, and you just know that someone in the inner circle- Paulie, Chris, or even Tony- is going to bite the bullet sooner or later.

All I know is Chase is setting us up for a fantastic finale.

I just hope that he doesn't let us down like Tony's close friends have.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Set the DVR(s) to Hyperdrive, Mr. Sulu!

Ah, it's a beautiful spring-like April day throughout the country- finally (hey Northeast & Midwest, welcome to the club), but unfortunately for sports/TV junkies like me there's no time to take a stroll on the beach, play with the kids at the park, or catch up on that yardwork.

No, for there is just too much on the tube today & tonight, and the variety of the programming runs the gamut from icy (NHL Playoffs) to hot (Sloan on Entourage), and from irrational (Tony Soprano) to international (Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.)

So buckle up folks, fire up that DVR (or, if you're like me and your wife works for BrightHouse, DVRs) and enjoy what could be one of the best television viewing days in recent memory:

NBA PLAYOFFS: (all game 1s)
12:30- Wizards @ Cavs
3:oo- Lakers @ Suns
7:00- Nuggets @ Spurs
9:30- Warriors @ Mavs

Four first round games are on tap for this fisrt Sunday of the playoffs, starting with LeBron James and the Cavs taking on the Wizards at 12:30 and ending with the Mavs latest drive for that elusive title against the Warriors (!) at 9:30. In between we get to see if Kobe can lead the Lakers to an upset of Steve Nash's Suns, and then after dinner we follow Tim Duncan as he tries not to laugh his way out of the game against Carmelo Anthony, A.I. and the Nuggs.

That's a solid 12 hours straight of NBA action, and for all you non-fans out there remember that it's the regular season that is meaningless, boring until the last 5 minutes of the game and seemingly never-ending; the playoffs are meaningful, boring until the last 5 minutes of the game and seemingly never-ending.

1:00- Devils @ Lightning, GM 6 (NY leads, 3-2)
9:00- Red Wings @ Flames, GM 6 (Wings lead, 3-2)

Only two games on tap, which is good because of all the other action, but the two are a couple of good ones.

First the 'Ning will try to stay alive against the Devils in an elimination game down here at the Ice Palace. Martin Brodeur will try to stop Vinny, Marty & the Bolts from advancing to its second Cup final in 3 years, while the Devils are trying to capture its 4th cup in 10 years.

Later tonight the Wings will try and close out their series with the Flames, but as Lightning fans remember from that Cup-winning season, Calgary in April is not a hospitable place to be, and I'm not referring to the weather.

Stankees @ Red Sox, 8P ESPN

Of course it's Sunday so every local team is on TV in their local markets, but the one game that really matters today is being played at 8:00 tonight, on an international stage, with the fate of the free world hanging in the balance

Okay, so I may have exaggerated that last part, but tonight's game between the old, bitter rivals marks the introduction of Japanese hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka, or as he's affectionately know in Beantown, Dice-K, to the madhouse that is the Sox/Yankees rivalry.

There will be hundreds on media members at the old ballpark on Yawkey Way tonight, which just celebrated the 95th anniversary of the first game ever played there, and the eyes of two Nations, Japan and Red Sox, will eagerly await the results of Dice-K's first Evil Empire experience.

Oh yeah, Boston is going for a three-game sweep after wiping the Stanks out the first two games.

(For much, much more on this series & game, click to my Sox blog, Curt's Bloody Sock.)


9:00: The Sopranos
10:00- Entourage

The two series are running neck and neck so far over the first two episodes for entertainment bang-for-the-buck.

The mob drama is on its last legs, and not because Johnny Sack ordered a hit on anyone before he succumbed to cancer last week. No, there are only 7 more episodes of this landmark series, and creator David Chase is steadily building the foundation for a potentially explosive finale.

Then again he may have Tony retire to St. Pete where he and Carm sit on the beach and sip margaritas all day long while AJ tries to run the family business.

Either way, it's worth watching the ending of one of the most influential TV series of all time.

On the other hand that show's HBO Sunday Night counterpart, Entourage, is just sinking its teeth into the American pop culture landscape. The show became a breakout hit last season, and so far this season has kept it's foot on the gas.

Whether you tune in for Vince's good looks, Ari's raunchy put-downs, Drama's hilarious nuggets of knowledge or Sloan's smoking hot, well, you get the point, this show is a must for those who want to be in on the watercooler talk on Monday.

There you have it, a FULL day of terrific television viewing.
In case you need help with what to watch, what to TiVo and what to PIP, here's my plan:

1:00-4:00- watch Lightning, PIP Wiz/Cavs

4:00-6:00-at the ballfield forLittle League practice (I was kidding about ignoring the kids)

6:00-8:00- watch end of Lakers/Suns, PIP Nugs/Spurs

8:00-11:30 watch Sox pummel Stanks

9:00-10:30- record Sopranos & Entourage

11:30-? *watch end of Wings/Flames, PIP Warriors Mavs (*NHL playoff elimination games always take precedence over NBA GM 1s)

12:00ish- replay Sopranos & Entourage

You're welcome.