Tag Archives: Adam Arkin

Prodigal Sons Return

Come along for the ride

I”m sad to see summer end, and with it a few very enjoyable shows, none more than the off-the-charts comedy Louie. But the sounding of September’s bells also brings the return of the “regular season” shows, those that arc in the familiar Fall time frame. Near the top of my list is the biker drama Sons of Anarchy, which I previously wrote about as the perfect hybrid of a Shakespeare play and a Western.

Last season’s plot featured the dynamic performances of Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins playing against the main cast (strong in its own right with a mix of seasoned veterans and intriguing lesser known actors); frankly it will be hard to top. Creator Kurt Sutter hints that there will be some time spent in Belfast as the Sons pursue the fleeing IRA gun runner, which hopefully means more appearances by his boss, played by the wonderful Titus Welliver. Tonight’s opening salvo also indicated we might get to see more of Jeff Kober (China Beach) whose career has shown he can play twisted as well as anyone.

Even the small subtle parts of this show are top-notch. What other show could sell a version of a Herman’s Hermits hit (“No Milk Today”) as the score for a dramatic montage? But like the best shows (Homicide, The Shield) the use of music has always been a strong suit for SOA; hearing Richard Thompson during the closing scene was icing on the cake.

During tonight’s episode I had a fleeting thought that this was going to be a season where damaged, weepy Jax became a neutered man (hinted at even in the scene where he hesitates when the Sons are headed to the boat launch; Clay asks “Are you with us?”). That chance was crushed like a skull at the end of the show in a shocking and violent scene.

Revenge is a powerful dramatic motivator, as is desperation. When a man feels he has nothing left to lose, who is he? Does he become his purest essence, good or bad? Or does he become merely a vessel for his dominant emotion?

Sutter has just dealt the cards, and once again I’m all in.

Sons of Anarchy official website

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All My Sons

They'll be back

I’ve had a bit of time to digest the final episode of Sons of Anarchy season two. While my initial impressions were positive, I’m even a bit more enthusiastic after looking back upon the story arc that unfolded this year. Sure, there were a couple of blips; like many episodic dramas they rely upon a fair amount of coincidence and synchronicity for events to fall into place. And occasionally there are the “yeah, right” moments…like the final chase scene (or watching someone actually overpower Henry Rollins!).  

But consider that Kurt Sutter walked out of one of the best shows of all time (The Shield) and immediately created another world that already has two excellent seasons of SOA in the books. From the very first episode of The Shield it was made clear that these were bad cops, yet by fleshing them out into three-dimensional characters, damned if you weren’t rooting for them to pull it all off and walk away. Sons of Anarchy has already started to tap into that zone. Sure, there’s been some murder and mayhem, but not to the innocent (at least by the Sons). This is frontier justice, twentieth century – SOA style.  

Many plot points were established early; seeds planted that have not yet begun to flower. We know there is some mystery in John Teller‘s death, in what Jax was told versus what they will let him find out, in how the original vision of the club has been altered (Piney obviously has a line drawn in the sand and, while loyal to the club, is clearly only willing to go so far.) Many have called the plot arc Shakespearian in design, and indeed what we have seen so far looks like a mash-up of Macbeth and Hamlet…um…and a Western.  

S*M*A*S*H

Perhaps a subtle difference is the appearance of the cast. These are not pretty boys and hot, fit women; the types that somehow seem to fill an entire ensemble cast on most cop, law and medical dramas. These actors look hard – some even weatherbeaten – and it’s refreshing to see life’s scars figuratively and literally be part of their appearance. Indeed, the show is about family, and whether it was the pain of the dysfunction at the group dinner (think Thanksgiving gone horribly awry) or “going to the mattresses” before the final confrontation, all petty differences and minor disagreements are pushed aside for the common goal. On another level – especially with the territorial nature of the conflicts – it’s almost a patriotic move as much as a familial one.  

But above all, it’s the performance of the cast, taking a slice of life that could easily be caricatured and breathing nuance and depth into these characters. Katey Sagal, in particular, has been outstanding this season. Surviving a brutal attack at the outset, her Gemma has gone from pain to fear to abandonment to a reawakening and new strength. Her journey has been cathartic, especially her quiet scene with the priest whereby she looks within and realizes what her purpose and calling should be…and then how she twists that moment to take it way past the line. Much of this was done alone on camera, with little more than the realization coming over her face as only we, the audience, watched unfold. It was one of the best performances on television in 2009, by anyone.  

Queen Bee

Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins were flat-out amazing this year. Arkin underplayed what could have been a flashy, showy role and in doing so made his character far more sinister. And Rollins, whose image should sit next to the word “intense” in every dictionary, played a twisted soul who was both frightening and vulnerable. His character entered the story as the epitome of despicable, but Rollins was amazingly able to elicit sympathy and respect by the last episode. And a good show always gives its supporting characters great moments. Many got a turn to shine – Kim Coates, Ryan Hurst and Tommy Flanagan were among those who stepped up to the plate.  Special kudos to Dayton Callie as life-beaten police Chief Unser, who finds his center and his purpose.  

  

You know the show is special when moments after the final season episode you want the new season to start immediately. SOA nailed that with some resolution, cliffhanger elements (I won’t spoil anything for those still catching up), new roads laid bare and a character who may or may not have died in a fire. (On that last item, some have suggested it was a slip in the plot…I think there’s a reason we don’t know yet). I am itching for season three.  

Tune back in when I recap the ten best shows of 2009.  

Sons of Anarchy

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Impressions of Fall TV

Network Russian Roulette

Network Russian Roulette

Another season, another crapshoot. But if you’re going to find the pearl, you gotta shuck the oysters. Here’s my first impressions on five shows making their debut this fall, as well as five shows trying to avoid that sophomore slump:

 And yes, there might be spoilers below.

The freshmen

CommunityJoel McHale, like the hosts of The Soup that preceded him, has charisma. Hard to tell where this one is going with so many characters getting introduced so quickly, but McHale plays his selfish user somewhere between Sgt. Bilko and a young Chevy Chase. Problem is, the old Chevy Chase is in the cast, and in the first week he already dropped the name-fumbling gag from Caddyshack and the awkward food pantomime John Belushi used in Animal House. If Chase is used sparingly, and they let McHale spar more with the hilarious John Oliver (who I hope will be a recurring character), this could work. LINK

EastwickThey don’t know Jack. if they did, they would have realized that most remakes suck, and remakes of Jack Nicholson vehicles really suck. It was a stupid movie with Jack; imagine how abysmal it is dumbed down for network television sans Sir Satan. This should be dead by Christmas. LINK

Flash Forward…Hands-down the most ambitious and amazing looking pilot; the debut episode looked like a feature film. The central concept is a good one, and the strong performances of a solid cast already have me invested in a few of them. It’s odd that despite a global catastrophe most of the characters seem to have wrapped their head around this global mystery, accepting the chaos with a little better demeanor than I would have, but an hour of people screaming “what the hell??” probably doesn’t make good television. Conspiracy theory, science fiction, time travel, dreams and alternate reality. I’m down. LINK.

Glee…Yes, every character is a stereotype (jock, nerd, bully, brainiac chick, earnest teacher, dysfunctional athletic director, etc.). I don’t care. This is laugh-out-loud funny, the songs are phenomenal, and even though Jane Lynch is playing the same character she usually does – here a cross between her oddballs from The 40 Year Old Virgin and Role Models – she still steals every scene she’s in. Hopefully they don’t try to make it melodramatic as well. Either way, I cannot believe this is from the same guy who created Nip/Tuck – that’s like Barbara Walters doing porn. In your face, High School Musical! LINK

Modern Family…This is like watching a nervous juggler; if he can keep all those balls in the air it will be an amazing feat and perhaps even something worth talking about. But he might have tossed too many up at once, and it’s possible he’s going to collapse under a hail of projectiles. I love Ed O’Neill, and Ty Burrell shows promise as a cringeworthy “cool Dad”, but they were already going for the cheap, broad laughs in the pilot. Must admit I laughed at a couple of them, but with so many characters, the writing will have to be very strong or this is toast.   LINK

The sophomores

Castle…Looks like it’s picking up right where it left off, and if Bones continues to waste its time on romantic subplots between the secondary characters, this will be the go-to show for people who want a little light banter and sizzle with their crime drama. The leads have killer chemistry, the cases are plausible and  interesting enough to hold their own, the daughter might be the most realistic teenager on television, and Nathan Fillion is a star. LINK

Dollhouse…If any other team was behind this show, I think the network would have deep-sixed it after the first season. But Joss Whedon not only has proven himself, even the shows of his that have been cancelled have continued to mesmerize large fanbases. Regardless, it doesn’t look like a concept with a master plan at this point, it seems as if they’re trying things out to see what sticks. He’s got to focus this one better or only the fanboys will be left, because Friday night is a tough sell. LINK

FringeMindblower of a final episode last season, the kind of cliff-hanger that people talk about all summer. Solid cast, complex but not difficult plot (if you pay attention), and if you can accept the premise, you can be richly rewarded. Great chemistry between the leads and main supporting characters with some fascinating oddballs in the mix. If you liked The X-Files for either the linear mysteries or the Mulder/Scully relationship, you’ll love Fringe. LINK

Parks and Recreation…I’m really pulling for this one, although I can understand if people’s patience wears thin. The cast is amiable and there’s good situational dialogue, but the amount of people who can identify with this workplace – as opposed to The Office, which it’s modeled after – might not be enough to make this water-cooler material. Amy Poehler’s character is a dolt with heart and she nails it, and the supporting cast is good, with Aziz Ansari a standout. Hiring Louis CK as the small town cop was a stroke of genius; he might just save the show. LINK

Sons of Anarchy…Obviously not for everybody, but this biker drama is yet another reason FX has become the best channel on television. Somehow they pepper in a little humor among the violence and criminal activity, and the performances are so universally excellent (Kim Coates is absolutely twisted, and Katey Sagal was robbed of an Emmy) that even the guest stars need to bring their A-game. This season’s first episode brought Henry Rollins and a quietly demonic Adam Arkin to the table and proved the show already took it up a notch. LINK

There's always this option...

There's always this option...

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