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Cable Television Rundown: HBO, Mad Men, MTVLOL, and More

Yes, the constantly-blogged-about new HBO series True Blood made its premiere Sunday night. To do proper research for the premiere, I (accidentally) sliced my finger on a common household object (the lid of a can in the garbage) and bled everywhere, making a visit to the emergency room to get five (FIVE!) stitches sewn into my middle finger. After losing all that blood, I got me a bottle of Tru Blood to replenish the supply. Then I talked in a Southern accent and read some minds. But that wasn't the only thing on television on Sunday...

True Blood -- Season One, Episode One, "Strange Love"
I liked this show the first time, when it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Mel Gibson rom-com What Women Want! (See, because Sookie Stackhouse, Anna Paquin's main character, can read minds in a very What Women Want kind of way.) For serious, though, the general consensus of press about this show has been that the "Vampire as metaphor" angle is hammered away , and that Alan Ball's "Gotcha" brand of symbolism, even by his standards, is too prevalent. Well, to me, some of thoes elements that could have seriously taken away from the show were not as prevalent as I expected. What struck me about the premiere was how deliberately paced the scenes were and how well of a job Ball did in establishing an environment -- something few series do these days. I expected a lot of Alan Ball-style awkward comedy, but while there were a few scenes that felt awkward (like Tara's first scene, getting mad at a customer, as well as the opening vignette with the young couple looking for bottled blood), I could take the show seriously while occasionally chuckling. In summary, this show has some potential to be very entertaining, moody, slightly spooky fun. Certainly, this appears to be nothing as densely wonderful as something like Carnivale but, if Ball lets other writers do most of the dialogue work (which seems wise given that, save for the premiere episode, the episodes of Six Feet Under written by him were frequently the most heavy-handed and cringe-worthy of all), this could be in the Big Love range of goodness as far as HBO series go. Of course, that's still far and away better than most series these days.

By the way, I'm THRILLED that Chris Bauer, aka Frank Sobotka of Season Two of The Wire is a regular castmember on this. In my IMDb research leading up to this post, I found that Bauer's career has been pretty craptastic since appearing as Frank Sobotka, featuring roles in short-lived series like The Black Donneleys, Smith, and some shows called Tilt and Jonny Zero. Why are all these great freaking actors everywhere and not getting regular roles on their own shows?! Welcome back to the fold, Sobotka.

Entourage -- Season Five, Episode One - "Fantasy Island"
I've never watched Entourage and have only seen a handful of random episodes in the past few months, so its hard for me to make any overarching opinions on this show. The main debate for me is this: is the show actually just a male wish-fulfillment series, genuinely funny and nothing more, or commentary on celebrity culture and, on a different level, friendship? I'm still not totally sold on any of those options. But, there were some funny moments in this season five premiere -- namely, Ari (Jeremy Piven, who, despite what one thinks of the show, is given the perfect role in this series) declaring to his employees no one is allowed to discuss Richard Roeper after he gave his client Vince's arthouse flick Medellin a horrible review. In short, I'm still not sure how I feel as a whole about this series, but I'd rather have this on while I'm doing the dishes than VH1.

Mad Men -- Season Two, Episode Seven - "The Gold Violin"
At this midpoint in Season Two of the show, it's obvious that this is the best dramatic series on television today. Of course, for a viewer who has not been following from the beginning, an episode in which the plot description states "Don buys a new car; Pete, Harry and Ken strategize to attract new business" does not exactly lend itself to slam-bang entertainment. But, it's all about the subtle nuances of the Drape-man, Don Draper himself. Don Draper can go down in the television books as a great, iconic television character, like Tony Soprano, or Jack Bauer. Thus far, Season Two has built upon what we learned through Season One and gone darker (of course, in a subtle way.)
Of course, Sunday's episode was probably the least eventful episode of the season, with stories like Ken the accountant and his short story (and as an accountant myself, fully support creative endeavors!), Dale Cooper's modern art painting, Don buying a new car, etc. Doubtless, though, events in this episode point to things to come in the future. It's a rare show that, even when plot-wise it is nothing more than an episode setting up for future things to come, I want to watch for the characters and the environment they live in. What ever happened to a world where men could be men, and everyone dressed to the nines? Oh, yeah, and the gender politics of the show are amazingly well done and thought-provoking.

2008 MTV Video Music Awards
I haven't watched the "VMAs" since, I think, Chris Rock hosted it, and this year has been no exception. However, an ad for their "Best New Artist" award did catch my eye during the credits of an episode of The Hills (I mean, I don't watch The Hills!) because, a) I could vote for my favorite (wait, wasn't that what the "Viewers' Choice" award was for?) and b) it caught my eye being that it sounded like a cross between the Goo Goo Dolls and Avril (two great guilty pleasures -- well, A Boy Named Goo-era Goo Goo Dolls, that is). So, I watched all five of the "Best New Artist" videos, and, after realizing that the said song was actually by Miley Cyrus, vomited all over my cut finger. The other nominees (Jordin Sparks, Taylor Swift, Tokio Hotel, and the insufferable Katy Perry) made it clear that voting for Best New Artist was actually voting for "LOL What's Yr Fav Genre of Music?" or whatever the kids text these days. See, Miley covers the "Hey, I like a little of everything" genre, Jordin Sparks covers the hip-hop, Taylor Swift covers Country (and SINCE WHEN does MTV = country music?!), Tokio Hotel covers Neutered-Goth-Emo, and Katy Perry covers, um, apparently people who like chicken-inspired purses. I could go on about how crappy MTV is now, but that would just make me feel old and out of touch.

I voted for Miley.

A Grab Bag of Other Stuff
FX's Sons of Anarchy premiered last Wednesday, and, like True Blood, established a great mood / world, and has great potential. And Jax Dunham, the main character, is by far the most emo biker I've ever seen. Reading his father's manuscript while in his mind listening to Sun Kil Moon? Priceless. . . What a shame it is that HBO let Inside the NFL go -- this was made all the more apparent when I watched five minutes of ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown. Chris Berman is the anti-Bob Costas, and the unbelievably annoying timers when people talk to make sure they cover as many stupid topics as possible makes my brain bleed. I'll miss Bob's calm, reasonable analysis of NFL action more than I'll ever have thought possible. . . Speaking of the NFL on ESPN, go Vikings on Monday Night vs. the Green Bay Pukers! Suck it, Katie! I finally watched the first episode of HBO's first dramatic series Oz. I love it! It's like if The Wire were structured like a Shakespearian play and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. On a side note, I had a dream that J.K. Simmons, who plays the neo-nazi prisoner on the show and also is a well-recognized character actor (you know, Juno's sarcastic dad!), was also a doctor who couldn't stitch up my split-open finger.

Full circle, my friends. Full circle.

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  1. Blogger Sean | 12:17 PM |  

    cable television and premium cable television. boo!

    write about broadcast tv and billboards and stuff poor people see.

    i'm saying it: the blogulator is elitist.

    prove me wrong.

  2. Blogger qualler | 12:21 PM |  

    If The Blogulator is elitist, then so is Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, the USA Today, and the internet, since they also talk about cable television and premium cable television frequently. Boo to booing!

  3. Blogger Brigitte | 12:21 PM |  

    silly sean! the blogulator is reviewing these shows so that poor people don't have to worry about missing out on them! this way, you can read about it and join in that conversation at work, and then you won't look like the jerk who can't afford cable, and you can continue to spend your money on food or shelter or whatever it is you non-richies spend money on. so really...you're welcome! :)

  4. Blogger Brigitte | 12:24 PM |  

    in FACT, reading these reviews might help someone become less poor. say, for example, the big boss calls you into his office, and all he wants to talk about is True Blood (because, he has HBO, of course, he's the boss) and if you can't join in, you'll probably be fired. but thanks to the blogulator, you CAN join in, and then the boss sees that you're cool, and you don't look desperate like "oh, i need a raise, i can't even afford HBO" and that gets you invited to drinks after work, and that leads to a promotion, etc. of course, you'll probably then get too full of yourself and lose it somehow, and then learn a valuable lesson about what's really important.

  5. Blogger nicole | 12:31 PM |  

    Or, this post might entice me to want to watch a cable show, and then guilt-trip my well-to-do DVR-owning friends into inviting me over, to, say, watch all the episodes of Mad Men season 2. I'm just saying that might happen.

  6. Blogger DoktorPeace | 1:12 PM |  

    (puts on top hat)

    I watched the last 15 minutes of True Blood (HD!) last night, most of which were spent wondering whether or not there would be nudity in the series. Maybe I'll watch it on-demand when I need stuff to distract me during sit-ups... er... I mean white collar stuff, stock research... Capital!

    I don't really get the Mad Men love yet. I've watched the first episode of each season, in reverse order. After the Season 2 opener, I thought it was a poorly-made show benefiting from the cable review bounce. After the Season 1 opener, I saw some of the potential intrigue, but the other episode was still bad in future-spect. I mean, I might like it more, boss, if you let us drink on the job.

    (is fired)

  7. Blogger DoktorPeace | 1:15 PM |  

    Sean and Wipert were also a part of the reverse Mad Men premiere-tacular, so their opinions are equally as valid. Besides, I really feel that my job performance starts with teamwork and progresses from there. Am I looked to as a leader? Perhaps, on a casual level. More or less, though, the projects I'm a part of of feature no byline, no role definitions. We are the project, and the project is the company.

    (is hired to another job)

  8. Blogger qualler | 1:19 PM |  

    Oh Doktor, Sean and Wipert, how misguided you all are. The S2 premiere is a weak episode, even if you've seen it from the beginning. It would make even less sense if you watch it first. And, the S1 premiere is more intriguing, but the show doesn't really start getting interesting until about three eps in, when we learn secrets.

  9. Blogger qualler | 1:21 PM |  

    p.s. Nudity and simulated oral sex @ about the 15-20 minute mark.

  10. Blogger qualler | 2:05 PM |  

    Nicole, guilt tripping friends isn't nice.

  11. Blogger chris | 3:00 PM |  

    Qualler's right - when you begin to learn about about Draper's past, Mad Men turns from middling office soap to slow-burning psychological quagmire.

    Are people really arguing with Sean? We are totally elitist. We have features such as "This Week in Elitism" and "Pretentious Movie Alert" and 4/7ths of our writers live in Uptown Minneapolis. Accept it and/or embrace it, folks.

  12. Blogger qualler | 3:02 PM |  

    Yeah, but aren't those categories tongue-in-cheek? If the masses don't understand, then they're just too stupid. Screw 'em!

  13. Blogger qualler | 3:06 PM |  

    Plus, Sean's point is that because the Blogulator's coverage of cable television, the Blogulator is elitist, and my perception is Cable Television = Stuff Lots Of People Watch And/Or Talk About. I reject the term elitist!

    Wait, who was actually kidding in their comments and who was being serious? I can't tell (seriously) (not seriously) (no wait, seriously, I think) (DoktorPeace is fired) (I always feel better after firing someone.)

  14. Blogger nicole | 3:08 PM |  

    I am totally pretentious/elitist. For example, I'm an oenophile. And I like fancy cheese! Oh, and when I guilt-trip, I do it with puppy dog eyes and baked treats! (Elite treats, like with French names).

  15. Blogger Brigitte | 3:12 PM |  

    i reject your labeling of me, chris. labels are for canned goods. not people. i'm not an elitist. not at all. in fact, i totally love poor people.

  16. Blogger chris | 3:18 PM |  

    Ah post-irony. We like to think we're being tongue in cheek, but you still sincerely see pretentious movies (I do too) at the Uptown Theater and Nicole still regularly reads the New Yorker probably mostly sincerely (I probably would too if I had easy access to it).

    If you're agreeing that we're elitist, how Sean arrived at that statement is irrelevant. It's the law of averages or something like that...

  17. Blogger chris | 3:20 PM |  

    I'm not labeling you, I'm labeling the site, and so is Sean. If you identify as part of the site, that's your problem. I am not my media. I am my own man. Get real or get out.

    P.S. The Blogulator is my life.

  18. Blogger Brigitte | 3:22 PM |  

    "We are totally elitist. We have features such as "This Week in Elitism" and "Pretentious Movie Alert" and 4/7ths of our writers live in Uptown Minneapolis."

    the site is a "we," chris? i thought the site would be an "it." and the site doesnt' live in uptown. it lives on the internet. sounds like you were labeling people, buddy, not the site.

  19. Blogger chris | 3:25 PM |  

    It's called a joke, Brigitte - look it up! <--a common joke elitists make.

  20. Blogger DoktorPeace | 3:32 PM |  

    Let not this squabbling reduce our minds to the arena of men. For what have we read the works of Aristotle, Bacon, and Spinoza, but to levy our spirit beyond the existential prefascination with... etc.

    That's me pretending to be elitist.

  21. Blogger Brigitte | 3:58 PM |  

    also, i have to say, i'm not sure how i feel about true blood yet. it felt kind of heavy handed to me. i also have to say that i am TOTALLY uncomfortable watching a show as it's actually on the air (like mad men, now that we're caught up). i'd much rather be watching it on dvd. i'm impatient.

  22. Blogger Brigitte | 4:00 PM |  

    uh, aren't jokes supposed to be funny, chris? you know, like how your face is funny to look at.

  23. Blogger nicole | 4:00 PM |  

    I'm not always pretentious though. When it comes to getting people to like me, I can sound any way that makes you comfortable. You know the difference between me (blogger) and a pitbull? I drive an American-made SUV. <--Potential elitist cartoon caption, common in The New Yorker (it also doesn't really make sense and you don't get it right away, which is also typical)

  24. Blogger qualler | 4:04 PM |  

    Hahahaha, Nicole your commment literally made me LOL. Nice work.

    Brigitte, since you are setting this discussion back on track, what specifically did you find heavy-handed about True Blood? I mean, besides the cheesy opening scene and the "God hates fangs" thing in the credits.

  25. Blogger Brigitte | 4:06 PM |  

    (my joke was post/pre elitist, because making fun of someone's face and pointing out the multiple, related uses of the word "funny" is so uncool that it's become cool again.)

  26. Blogger qualler | 4:08 PM |  

    (Man alive, my head is spinning. And that's just from (fill-in-the-blank-topical-person/place/thing)!)

  27. Blogger Brigitte | 4:08 PM |  

    i thought the whole "who's really a good person and who's really a bad person??" thing was heavy-handed, and all the "we're in the south and we don't accept people!" was annoying. so, just the very setting annoyed me. also i felt like there was something off about the pacing and the acting and...i can't quite put my finger on it, but i was left feeling (scrunched up uncomfortable face) and not in a good way. i'm hoping it gets better as the season continues, though.

  28. Blogger DoktorPeace | 4:11 PM |  

    I'm probably going to give True Blood another chance.

    That was the show you mentioned had nudity and oral sex, right qualler?

  29. Blogger nicole | 5:04 PM |  

    Wow, a real-world LOL? (does formal
    curtsy). I LOVE New Yorker cartoons, which means I'm already on the dark side of pretentiousness. And I'm just labeling myself. Yay arugula and lattes!

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