I have to admit, I felt like season 2 of Scandal got off to a bumpy start. Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger revolving around the supposed “true identity” of fresh-faced Quinn (Katie Lowes), but it turned out she was a fugitive wanted for murder in a storyline we had never heard one thing about up until then. And of course, there was the ongoing relationship between Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and President Grant (Tony Goldwyn), which I never much cared for, and the seemingly limitless abilities for former CIA killer Huck (Guillermo Diaz), which were beginning to strain the limits of credibility. Of course, Scandal has the unique advantage of having the luminous Kerry Washington in a role where she dresses to kill in every scene. It almost isn’t fair. But Scandal had delivered plenty of intrigue and suspense in Season 1. Was it going flat?
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I needn’t have worried. The Quinn identity story (and subsequent murder trial) served merely to set up the bigger (and much, much juicier) story about the hidden election fraud conspiracy of which Olivia is a part, and created a very nice set of parallel storylines about David (Joshua Malina) fixating on losing Quinn’s murder trial, his failed relationship with Abby (Darby Stanchfield), neither of them knowing it was sabotaged by Harrison (Columbus Short) at Olivia’s instruction. David eventually hands the reigns over to James (Dan Bucatinsky) who continues to investigate despite being told to back off by husband Cyrus (Jeff Perry). Having trouble keeping up? You won’t if you’re watching, as Scandal has quite brilliantly managed all of these running plotlines effectively, giving the viewer just enough information each week to want more, culminating in this week’s cliffhanger: gunshots ringing out and the President (apparently) being shot.
All of which left only the President and Olivia’s romance to wrap up. I’m not convinced, sadly, that we’ve seen the last of this storyline, but I truly wish we have. Am I the only one who thinks President Grant is acting like a creepy stalker a la Patrick Bergin in Sleeping With The Enemy? And why would a strong, powerful woman like Olivia put up with his morose obsession? In the first season, there was some effort to portray the First Lady (Bellamy Young) as a politically ambitious shrew who was keeping the lovebirds apart, but in reality, Fitzgerald Grant has treated his wife (most undeservingly) like shit for most of Season 2, even though he knows he’s wrong. And it still doesn’t explain why Olivia seemingly isn’t over him yet.
Another picture of Kerry Washington, because, damn. . .
Even with the fits and stops at the beginning of Season 2, Scandal is easily outpacing what it established in its first season. The show has gotten highly suspenseful and leaves you wanting to see the next installment from the moment it ends. While somewhat similar shows like Revenge have gotten bogged down as they tried to introduce new characters and new layers to the story, Scandal has only gained momentum, making it one of the most riveting hours of TV available. I know I can’t wait to see what happens next.
BACK FOR A third season (has it only been 3?) is Raising Hope, the comedic misadventures of the low-income and low-IQ Chance family. Cheerful and zany, Raising Hope successfully combines family sitcom mirth with extreme over-the-top shock-value scenarios, making it something akin to Married With Children on happy pills or live-action Family Guy.
Whatever the formula, it works. Raising Hope is consistently funny, and seems to have a limitless supply of bad ideas for its characters to come up with. The standout cast is led by Martha Plimpton, Lucas Neff and Garret Dillahunt, who each find a different way to do stupid and make it work. Neff plays Jimmy Chance, the classic blissfully ignorant heart-is-in-the-right-place screw up, Plimpton plays Virginia, his mother, who spouts pearls of wisdom with no factual basis whatsoever. Dillahunt as the clueless sitcom dad is the closest thing to Fred Flintstone I’ve ever seen a live-action actor create, and that includes both Flintstones movies where someone was actually playing Fred Flintstone. Cloris Leachman as wonderfully inappropriate Maw-Maw continues to steal scenes with her fearless performance.
Plimpton, Neff and Dillahunt in Raising Hope’s recent Goodfellas spoof
Raising Hope manages to deliver a good-natured brand of humor while treading in frequently dark territory. And the show has shown a real flexibility in storytelling, equally at home in typical sitcom plotlines but not afraid to branch out to the occasional Community-style spoof (a recent episode about a charity candy sale morphed into a hilarious Goodfellas send-up) or building a running narrative, as it has with Jimmy and Sabrina’s (Shannon Woodward) friendship and eventual romance and engagement
In some sense, Raising Hope is the rather logical outcropping of creator GregoryThomas Garcia’s evolution. Garcia started out with the saccharine Family Matters, a classic ‘90s family comedy, and eventually delivered My Name Is Earl, which celebrated all things low class and inappropriate. Raising Hope is the perfect blend of these shows, and is consistently funny to boot.
I KNOW MOST of you probably didn’t watch Season 1 of The Hour on BBC America, so do yourselves a favor and catch up On Demand now so you can enjoy Season 2 (c’mon, do it. It’s only SIX episodes). This period-piece about a news program set in the mid 1950s is NOT the British Mad Men, although its attention to detail and examination of historic socio-political conditions do match the outstanding AMC drama. The Hour, however, is much more serious business.
Season 2 finds pioneering female TV producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) struggling to keep her show afloat. She has a new boss, Randall Brown (a wonderfully restrained and effective Peter Capaldi), The Hour is facing competition from a copycat show, and her anchor Hector Madden (The Wire’s Dominic West) has become more cavalier and reckless than ever, frequently showing up in the tabloids, much to the chagrin of his neglected wife (Game of Thrones’ Oona Chaplin). Bel believes she’s got a chance to get things back to normal when her exiled pal Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) returns from Paris, but she gets two unwelcome surprises. Freddie has gotten married (to American Horror Story’s Lizzie Brochere) and it’s clear he’s gotten over his previously unrequited love of Bel. Also, Randall has named him co-anchor, thus sending a thinly veiled message to Hector that he’s on thin ice.
Whishaw, Garai and West
The Hour is no show for dummies, and you need a working knowledge of 20th century history to follow along. A passing familiarity with British class norms wouldn’t hurt either. If it sounds like The Hour is asking for a lot from its audience, its payback easily matches the investment it seeks (think about how much more you appreciate Mad Men by knowing about things like the Kennedy Assassination, the Beatles and the Civil Rights movement). Season 1 of The Hour dealt with the Suez Canal crisis, and Season 2 appears to be prepared to take on the nuclear arms race, along with all the hysteria that created. There’s also going to be a storyline dealing with race relations from a British perspective, and I have to admit I am rather ignorant about that subject and am eager to see how the show portrays it (in the middle of Season 1, I read up on the Suez Canal, realizing I didn’t know as much as I might have thought about that period in history).
I don’t want to give you the impression that The Hour is one long history lecture, however. The show is a top-notch character drama, smartly acted and brilliantly scripted. It tells its story both through the history it depicts and against its everpresent backdrop. Best of all, there really is nothing else like The Hour on television. Get into it – you won’t be sorry.
TV lost an icon this week, as Larry Hagman passed away at the age of 81. Hagman’s 55 year career spanned numerous movie and TV roles, including a five year run as Major Nelson on I Dream Of Jeannie, but he will forever be remembered as the over-the-top villain J.R. Ewing on Dallas, which essentially created the nighttime soap genre. Hagman’s JR was so vile and repugnant and yet so irresistible, that the “Who Shot J.R.” phenomenon of 1980 became the most anticipated and well crafted cliffhanger in the history of series television. Larry, thanks for the memories!
Observations From Geek Heaven: Apparently, CBS has green lighted a weekly drama series based on the Stephen King novel Under The Dome. Anyone who’s read the book knows that it was a great story, but had a much better and more intriguing beginning and middle than ending, in other words, the perfect book to adapt for a weekly series where there would not be a resolution, at least not a very quick one.
There are two ways to make something scary. The first is to have something unexpected startle you – something loud, unpleasant and very much in your face. While this is scary, it is also rather easy and doesn’t stay with you long. Think about how many horror movies have gotten a little jump out of you by having a loud phone ring after a moment of tension. Then there’s the other way. Where you know exactly what’s coming. And maybe you cover your eyes a little bit because even though you know it’s coming, you’re not sure you want to see it. American Horror Story really has that second one down pat. For example, I just know that guy who’s hearing voices is going to do something f**ked up with that slicer, but I just don’t think I want to know what it is. BOO!
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Love and friendship may not be forever, but herpes is (The Mindy Project); 2) Sometimes, great abs are on the inside (Jimmy Kimmel Live); 3) If you’re a gun enthusiast seeking a college fraternity, consider Ima Poppa Kappa (The Colbert Report).
It’s a Hollywood Rule. If Charlie Sheen goes public to agree with you, you probably f**ked up. Two and a Half Men star Angus T. Jones bit the hand that feeds when he called his show “filth” and said he wanted off of it. The dysfunctional Sheen immediately seized the opportunity to publicly support his former costar, and take a few shots at the network that fired him after his public meltdown. Jones tried to walk back his comments, saying he was “misunderstood,” but I think we all understand perfectly.
Reality Check: You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but you’ve got to check out Killer Karaoke on TruTV. Contestants attempt to sing pop songs while going through low budget Fear Factor style challenges, and the results are simply hilarious. Steve-O (Jackass) hosts, and has almost no talent it for it whatsoever, making the interview segments so awful they’re funny. In between, he laughs it up with the rest of us as people try to stay on key while getting hit in the face with a fish, having hair waxed off their bodies or getting a series of electric shocks. As bad (but as good) as it sounds, Killer Karaoke has somehow stumbled upon a funny and winning combination of the worst-of-all-worlds of reality TV. You’ll hate yourself for liking it.
Give Nashville credit. It’s hard to build an entire episode toward a climactic final song. Smash tried to do it every episode its first season and succeeded twice. Nashville just tried it once, with Rayne (Connie Britton) and Juliet’s (Hayden Panettiere) big duet and it worked like a charm, thanks in part to yet another great song that was catchy as hell. This show does music right.
Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life airs on NBC on December 1.
Boardwalk Empire airs its season finale on HBO on December 2.
The series premiere of Be The Boss airs on A&E on December 2.
Once Upon A Time and Revenge air winter finales on ABC on December 2.
The Walking Dead mid-season finale airs on AMC on December 2.
Sons of Anarchy airs its season finale on FX on December 4.
The midseason finale of Emily Owens, MD airs on The CW on December 4.
Nashville airs its winter finale on December 5 on ABC.
Santa Claus is coming to town. . .to slit your throat! Where else but on American Horror Story on FX on December 5.
The miniseries Restless begins on Sundance Channel on December 7.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: RobNJ564@yahoo.com. I welcome your input!