Knee-jerk review: Fox's "Fringe"

1. This is probably one of our favorite TV shows.  Ever.  (And we haven't even seen every episode yet.  Our journey started with the second season.)
2. What started out as a kind of "X-Files" monster-of-the-week FBI procedural rip-off has changed into something very strange and very genius.
3. John Noble is doing the kind of work that would have gotten him a number of Emmy nominations if he'd been cast in a traditional drama.  He is nothing short of amazing.
4. It's a show that has reinvented several times, shifting and warping its premise with audacious "re-sets" in the first episode of each new season (i.e. Joshua Jackson's character gets erased from history at the top of season 4; Anna Torv's character is kidnapped in an alternate universe and her double sent to ours as a spy at the top of season 3; you get the idea).  
5. This final season is no exception.  Supposedly, all 13 episodes will take place completely in the future as our heroes fight the Observer occupation.  
6. If you don't know what an Observer is, you should probably go to Wikipedia and get caught up a little.
7. Egg stick, anyone?
8. Fox deserves credit for hanging in there when it didn't have to.  This is a show with very low ratings and no one would have blamed Fox for canceling it.
9. We could be wrong, but there's a sense that this show will have the kind of satisfying resolution that completely eluded the muddled, flat endings of "Battlestar Galactica" and "Lost."  And don't even get us started on the slow, painful death-rattle of "The X-Files," a show we stopped watching way before it ended.
10. We continue to hear stories of how troubled and crazy the show's production actually is, with actors arriving on set without knowing what they'll be shooting, rewrites happening 24 hours a day, chaos in the writer's room.  The show should be a complete narrative disaster.  We don't know why it isn't.
11. Plus, after every episode, you get to soak up a master's class analysis from Entertainment Weekly's "Doc" Jeff Jensen, whose epic weekly essays single-handedly made "Lost" seem thematically deeper and more literary than it really ever was.


"May the infographics be with you, always."

A genius named Marc Morera turned the plots of the six Star Wars movies into detailed infographics.  And who doesn't like detailed infographics?


Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Last Resort"

1. Okay, well... that was kind of awesome.
2. Andre Braugher.  Just one of those actors, you know?  Magnetic.  Many a Friday night was spent by us watching "Homicide: Life on the Street" and Braugher chew scenery as Frank Pembleton.
3. We've paid to see two-hour movies that weren't as engrossing and suspenseful as these 48 minutes.
4. It's like Crimson Tide on acid, in a way.  And we loved Crimson Tide.  Criminally underrated.
5. We never get tired of stories that take us into the rigid ritual and protocol of the military.  Always fascinating.
6. And who doesn't love a sweaty scene of will-they-or-won't-they nuclear missile key-turning?
7. The pilot does a great job setting up a number of conflicts among a fractured collection of characters.  The best may be the one we didn't see coming: the local crime boss who doesn't much like the idea of the Navy upending his little fiefdom.
8. We're not sure what the truth is behind the suspicious launch order, but we know it surely has something to do with the president's impeachment troubles.  What better way to stay in office that create a national defense distraction?  Wag the Dog, maybe you heard of it?
9. Ms. Cheese Fry kept asking us to explain what was going on.  Like we knew.
10. "That's you little bitch, lieutenant."  Snap.
11. The world would be a cooler place if instead of saying letters, we all used the military alphabet.
12. Robert Patrick's looking old.  But it suits him, don't you think?  He looks good grizzled and tired.
13. We are on board.


Where did the old pull tabs go?

Slate.com's Tom Vanderbilt wrote one of those quirky articles about everyday minutiae that the Cheese Fry would want to write if we worked for Slate.com.  It's a look at how the soda-can pull tab was redesigned into the current pop top.

Knee-jerk review: Fox's "The Mindy Project"

1. You certainly can't say this show doesn't have a distinctively skewed and dark point of view.
2. Mindy Kalin clearly has no qualms about allowing her character to do some completely unlikable things, like disrupting an ex-boyfriend's wedding with an inappropriate drunken toast or trying to avoid a phone call from a patient having a medical emergency.  She's kind of a self-absorbed mess... but one who's also completely aware of that fact.
3. We've all seen the dreamer who loves romantic comedies and aspires for that kind of romance.  But not the dreamer who's also a bit of a drunken slut.  That's a funny edge and one we hope continues to be developed.
4. The ob-gyn office setting feels fresh.
5. Hey, the best friend is the girl who played the intern on "The Good Wife"!
6. "You look nice." "Go to hell."  Funny.
7. Stephen Tobolowsky didn't have much to do in this episode.  But we have faith.  We saw him at the airport once, having a fairly personal phone call in a loud voice on his cell phone.
8. Worth another look we think.

Knee-jerk review: CBS' "2 Broke Girls"

1. Sadly, not much has changed from last season.  It remains a frustrating, underachieving sitcom.
2. More sex jokes that are more "did they just say that?" shocking than funny.
3. More tired gags with the one-note diner employees.
4. More Jennifer Coolidge doing her Eastern European schtick.
5. The chemistry between Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, who are way better than the material they're given but seem to actually be having a good time and enjoying each other's company, remains the only thing worth watching on this show.  And it's really not enough.  The show works best when it's just the two of them.  But the writers keep sticking them with all of these other ridiculous characters.
6. We have to give some begrudging credit to the way the show looks at our current financial state and the gap between rich and poor.  But, come on, this is a show that mostly enjoys devising new sexual innuendos.
7. It could be so good.  But it's so mediocre.


Knee-jerk review: CBS' "Survivor: Philippines"

1. Yes, we still watch it.  There was one season a couple of years ago where we fell behind in the DVR queue and then just gave up.  But other than that, we haven't missed an episode.  We've been there from the very first season. 
2. It's still the most fascinating reality-TV competition on the air.  Equal parts physical strength, strategy, sociology, and personality.
3. It's always amusing to see contestants completely unable to practice what they preach.  All of these Type-A people know that outspoken, cocky "Survivor" leaders are often targeted at Tribal Council.  But they just can't help themselves. We're looking at you, Russell.  Sheesh.
4. Seems like a good cast this season. Likable people. 
5. Though we had no idea what Zane was talking about when he tried to describe his elaborate "ruse" strategy.
6. If you were picked to be on the show, wouldn't you immediately take a crash course in making a fire from scratch?  And wouldn't you also immediately begin some kind of, like, work-out regimen to develop endurance and strength?  Many contestants don't seem to do this.
7. Do the producers seriously think any viewer is buying that those cut-in shots of spiders and sharks and snakes are anywhere near the contestants?  No one's falling for that.
8. There's no one better at this kind of thing than Jeff Probst.  He's part of what makes this show so engaging.  Just think of the phony snark and smirk of other hosts like Ryan Seacrest or Tom Bergeron or Chris Harrison.  It'd never work in the jungle.
9. Big fan of Penner. Big fan.
10. There's really no call for the show's opening credits to be that artful and painterly.  But that's because "Survivle" goes the extra mile for you.
11. Yes, we have the soundtrack.

Thus Spake Chewbacca

From the files of "We Wished We'd Thought of That" comes a piece of cartoon art that outlines every line of dialogue uttered by Chewbacca in the original Star Wars.  Rrreeeowr.

No more Old-Timers with Cheese here

The Cheese Fry wore black recently to pay respects to the dismantling of the original Chili's Bar and Grill location in north Dallas.  We had the pleasure of eating there several times.  You will not be forgotten, old friend.


Knee-jerk review: NBC's "Revolution"

1. There's certainly a tediousness to pilots like this as the producers have to get everything set up and introduce the characters and arrange it all just so on the narrative chess board.
2. Billy Burke completely steals the show playing a variation on the Han Solo dashing-badass-who-doesn't-want-to-get-involved.
3. Would vegetation and trees really overrun everything in just 15 years?  Wrigley Field looks like the end of Logan's Run.  We'll have to re-read our copy of World Without Us.
4. Elizabeth Mitchell sighting.  Sigh.
5. It calls to mind Stephen King's "The Stand" what with the breakdown of civilization and the return to more of an old-fashioned Wild West mentality involving hangings and flintlock muskets and horses.  We don't mean that as an insult.
6. The militia's meadow headquarters of canvas tents is clearly meant to evoke the Civil War.
7. It's not bad, but we can't help but wonder how much darker and edgier and satisfying this would be if only it were on HBO or AMC.
8. We'll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and not read too much into the Katniss Everdeen similarities of cute teenaged archer heroine.
9. Even if an airplane lost power, it wouldn't fall out of the sky.  It could still glide to a landing.  Right?
10. Dig the cling-clang of the swordfights.
11. The only thing we really didn't see coming was the poison alcohol.  Everything sort of played out the way we expected, but that didn't necessarily make it any less enjoyable.
12. We're in for now.


Knee-jerk review: Fox's "The Mob Doctor"

1. Are they kidding with that title?  It's just begging to be mocked.  How can you not say it in a deep, booming Phil Hartman voice?
2. Yes, she's a brilliant surgeon who fights insensitive bureaucracy, performs cutting-edge surgery, and has the gritty no-nonsense backbone of a girl born on the wrong side of the tracks... who happens to be played by a cute blonde thirtysomething actress.
3. Nothing much is subtle here.  It's all way over the top, rife with coincidence and contrivance, and relayed to the audience in big flashing letters.  Case in point: why be cagey and crafty in complaining about your boss when you can just make a big scene that humiliates him in a way that insures he'll become a mortal enemy?
4. The last 20 minutes or so did have our complete attention.  It's one thing to suture bullet holes for dimwitted button men, but another to commit a premeditated in-surgery execution of a federal witness.  Isn't that right, Mob Doctor?  Rule one of being a Mob Doctor: don't make the mob angry.
5. We get it.  It's "The Sopranos" meets "Grey's Anatomy."  Don't think that's not how it got pitched to Fox.  And we admit it is compelling in a cheesy sort of way.
6. And this show was apparently based on a book.  What?  It's true.  Really.
7. East Dillon QB1 Matt Saracen's not old enough to be a doctor, people.  But there he is, delivering a lot of the episode's best lines.
8. Zeljko Ivanek is one of those actors we'd watch read a deli menu.  You thought we were going to say "phone book," didn't you?
9. Though the pilot ends on a note of intrigue, we probably won't be back.


Knee-jerk review: "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in IMAX

1. "Snakes.  Why did it have to be snakes?"
2. Remember when Paramount was a Gulf +Western company?
3. We don't recall the pacing and editing being this fast and this lean.  There's no time wasted anywhere.  It's one set piece and one sequence after another, bang bang bang.  Maybe we have a different memory because of so many airings on television, which slices and dices everything for the commercials and stalls the momentum.
4. People (including us) had big problems with the silly alien element of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  But look at this ending.  Angels and demons and melting faces and laser beams of holy wrath.  That's pretty out there, too.  Ditto the guy who gets his beating heart ripped out in Temple of Doom and the 1000-year-old knight guarding a magic cup in The Last Crusade.
5. Whatever happened to Paul Freeman?
6. It may be one of the best lines ever.  "It's not the years, honey.  It's the mileage."  Gold.
7. The story may hold up, but this is still an old movie.  The special effects and the process shots all look surprisingly grainy and shaky.  But we appreciate that Spielberg hasn't pulled a Lucas and gone back to polish it all up.
8. When we were younger, the dialogue scenes between the action scenes were the boring parts.  But as we get older, it's clear that this is where the real story lies.  Most notable are the lines dropped throughout that fill in Indiana and Marion's troubled backstory.  Just how young was Marion when Indiana fooled around with her?  Eek.
9. We also never really appreciated until now how much of a skeptic Indiana is when we first meet him. He doesn't believe in the supernatural.  Even as he's telling the Army intelligence officers about the Ark's Biblical power, he's barely able to keep from rolling his eyes.  He's Dana Scully.  And then at the end of the movie, he gets it.  It's all real.  These aren't just objects for a museum.  These things have power.  "Close your eyes, Marion!"
10. We're older now than Harrison Ford was when he made this movie.
11. "Throw me the whip!"
12. Raiders of the Lost Ark is 31 years old.  That's as old as Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve (both released in 1950) was in 1981 when Raiders was released.  Something to think about.
13. "We are... we are not thirsty."
14. Somehow we saw a behind-the-scenes featurette on how they painstakingly choreographed and filmed the Nepal bar fight, shot by shot, set-up by set-up.  This was a huge influence on sharpening our obsession with movies and Hollywood.
15. We may finally understand the appeal of Karen Allen.  She's not conventionally attractive, but there's a zesty, sexy spunk to her.  Marion really is Indiana's equal.  A hard drinker and a hard fighter.
16. "They're digging in the wrong place."
17. Can you really fling a grown man through a truck windshield with one hand?
18. This movie wouldn't work as well as it does without John Williams' score.  Yes, we bought the soundtrack.  On LP.
19. Check out the way Spielberg shoots Ford when the workers are opening the lid to the Well of Souls.  Lightning behind him, eyes wild, sweaty face.  Indiana looks like a crazy person, presumably to underscore his obsession.
20. "Bad dates."
21. How many bullwhips were sold in the 1980s because of this movie?  Just curious.
22. They also hit pretty hard that film-school cliche of the villain being a mirror image of the hero.  First Belloq says it explicity in the cafe.  "I am a shadowy reflection of you."  And then later, in case you didn't get it, in that bazooka scene (even though Indiana initially says he only wants Marion) Indiana realizes he's just as interested in opening the Ark as Belloq.  
23. If you're a film buff, you better know the difference between real IMAX and fake IMAX.  We saw Raiders in fake IMAX because believe it or not, in all of Los Angeles there are only two real IMAX theaters and neither was showing it.
24. We'll never think of this movie as Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Sorry, George Lucas.
25. We noticed for the first time that Dr. Jones' female students are all making dreamy goo-goo eyes at him. It's not just the girl with "love you" written on her eyelids. 
26. One of Hollywood's most memorable film deaths is surely the bald Nazi who gets shredded by the plane propellor.  Sprrratt.
27. Speaking of which, as epic and memorable as the truck chase is, the better sequence is probably the one that precedes it with the flying wing.  Everything that can go wrong does go wrong as the danger and the violence escalate.
28. We still probably could have done without the monkey.
29. Applause moments during our screening: the Paramount logo, Indiana first stepping into the sunlight when he bullwhips the double-crosser in the jungle, Indiana smirking at Marion in the bar and saying "Trust me," and the end credits.
30. "Top.  Men."
31. At this point is there anyone who hasn't heard the story behind the scene when Indiana just pulls a gun and shoots the big Arab dude with the scimitar?
32. Dear Raiders of the Lost Ark, thank you for existing.  Sincerely, the Cheese Fry.


We watched "Saturday Night Live" so you didn't have to

If you're like us, you have an on-again, off-again relationship with NBC's "Saturday Night Live," a show that's more cultural tradition than entertainment series.  At this point we wonder if NBC would ever cancel it.  It'd be like canceling "The Today Show."  This coming season will be the show's 38th.

In middle school and high school, the show was a pretty big deal for us.  We'd watch with our friends so we'd have something to talk about on Mondays, so we'd feel cool and hip.  But then once we got our driver's license, we sometimes had better things to do on Saturday night with our 11th grade friends.  This continued in college, though there were those Saturday night keg parties with the show playing in a dark corner.  We'd take a look.  But as we grew older, got a job, found a serious significant other, starting paying bills, there were many other things to do than keep track of the rotating cast and newest catch-phrases on "SNL."

Earlier this summer, while staying home to take care of Littlest Fry for a month, we had the opportunity to watch several episodes of "Saturday Night Live" back to back, clearing out hours of shows stacked up in our DVR.  We saw a lot of hosts, some surprisingly game (Mick Jagger, Daniel Radcliffe), some predictably mediocre (Lindsay Lohan), some predictably strong (Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell).

Here's what we learned.

1. Bill Hader is a genius.  And Stefon is perhaps his best creation, even if part of the appeal comes from watching him crack up.  He cannot get through these segments without losing it.  And we cannot get enough of him losing it in these segments.

2. It's easy to mock "SNL" when it seems lazy and lame, which it often is.  Sketches go nowhere, no one seems able to even try to learn lines, and every bit seems to be a variation of a tired TV talk show parody.  Some of this is surely a function of the demands of creating 90 minutes of content every week.  But some of it surely also complacency.  Even so, when the show is good, it's very very good:

"Almost Pizza" commercial

"The Californians"

"Disney Housewives"

3. Our favorite bit remains "Weekend Update."  It's often where the strongest, clearest jokes live, perhaps because they don't have to be stretched out into five minute sketches.  And while Seth Meyers seems at times to be polarizing, we like him.  So it was something of a let-down when Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Jimmy Fallon came back to the "Weekend Update" set for a joke-off to see which "Update" team could offer the best gag.  A strong idea.  But disappointing in execution.  Maybe you can't go home again.

4. It was a sweet dance send-off for genius Kristin Wiig on her last show, but we will not miss the strange recurring bit she shared with Fred Armisen in which they were a singing duo and she never knew the words.  It was funny for about 90 seconds.  And then it wasn't.  They mostly seemed to be amusing each other rather than the audience.

5. Keenan Thompson is funny, people.  And it's even more funny that he refuses to modulate in voice in any way from sketch to sketch.  No matter who he's playing, the dude sounds exactly the same.  (But we have had enough of the Scared Straight sketches and the awkward riffs on prison rape.)

6. We just don't get Fred Armisen.  He's funny sometimes, we suppose, but mostly he seems very smug and condescending.  He's his own best fan.

7. Taran Killam would seem to be the next break-out cast member.  He nails everything, doesn't he?

8. Abby Elliott will not be missed.  We never understood the reason for Elliott's presence on the cast.  And frankly, seeing her name in the credits often irritated us, especially when the more-talented Jenny Slate was axed last season.  All Elliott really offered was a dead-on Zooey Deschanel impersonation.  Though good, that's hardly a qualification for steady comedic employment. 

9. Jay Pharoah could be the next Abby Elliott if he's not careful.  If Elliott's a one-trick pony, Pharoah's so far maybe a three-trick pony.  He can nail Denzel and Jay-Z, but so what?  Is there anything more in the tank?

10. If there's no Andy Samberg, what will become of the "SNL Digital Short"?

11. The most artistic part of the show is surely the beautifully composed bumper photos of the guest host that run between segments.  The photographer is Mary Ellen Matthews and she's a genius.

The Cheese Fry gets organized

For those dozen or so Cheese Fry regulars out there who want a better way to sift through our voluminous and invaluable content, we've started adding searchable tags to each post.  Now if you want to access all of our "Knee-jerk reviews" you can do so.

Look for these tags, which Blogger calls "labels," at the bottom of each post.

You're welcome.

Knee-jerk review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

1. We thought for sure we'd be among the last to see this movie.  But no, there were a few other losers in the theater like us.
2. It was hard to sit through the opening few minutes without thinking of the Aurora, Colorado shooting victims.  Those images were the last those people would ever see.  It's easy to imagine the horrific chaos of gunfire and screams playing out against such a loud, raucous movie.  We also noted a new AMC trailer that talked about what to do in an emergency.  We don't think they're referring to a fire.
3. As for the film itself, it's kind of a mess.
4. We had the same sort of reaction to The Dark Knight, though that was a far superior movie.  The Dark Knight was essentially two movies crammed into one.  You had the Joker's story and then you had Harvey Dent/Two-Face's story.  Had they been integrated better, it might have worked.  Instead, you got 2 hours of the Joker and then suddenly the Two-Face twist crammed into the final rushed half hour.
5. This new movie is even worse, stuffed full full of characters and subplots and backstabs.  This is the kind of film where just about every character has a sad backstory that they reveal in a melodramatic monologue, sometimes with a flashback as well.   It's just too, too much.  
6. Good luck keeping everything straight as to who's working for who and why.  The whole Daggett subplot seems so completely needless.  You really just have to go with it.
7. It's frustrating because Christopher Nolan has such grand ambitions and always infuses his big-budget movies with big themes and compelling subtexts.  But it gets lost in all of the confusion.
8. One friend told us he suspects this is a case of no one at Warner Bros. daring to tell Nolan no given the huge success of The Dark Knight and Inception.  Nolan did this one the way he wanted, right or wrong.  
9. We loved the discussion about how being unafraid of death is a weakness, not a strength.  Those who want to live will fight harder and longer and smarter.  A genius concept that we hadn't ever considered.
10. Bane is no Joker.  And his voice sounds like a dime-store parody of Sean Connery's brogue.  And poor Tom Hardy having to act without using his face.
11. Despite the film being soggy for so long (sorry, auteurs, but no movie should be 2 hours and 45 minutes), the epilogue sequence is a complete knockout.  Very satisfying.
12. Who knew Joseph Gordon-Levitt could be such a bad ass?  Wow.  We cannot wait for Looper.
13. We saw that betrayal coming from a mile away.  And just step back a moment and think about all of the steps that were required to get that nuclear bomb into the bad guys' hands.  How convoluted.
14. The idea of fomenting a 99% revolution against the 1% upper class is a good one, but again, it's just one of many ideas stirred into the movie.  None of them get fully cooked really.
15. Some truly arresting visuals, like the army of cops charging at the army of crooks.  As liberal as one might view the anti-wealthy bent of the movie, there are also some very right-leaning perspectives on the value of law-and-order ruthlessness and the importance of the police.
16. Anne Hathaway.  Sigh.
17. So not only does Bruce Wayne pull on that suit, but he also takes the time to put blackout makeup around his eyes.
18. Gary Oldman, action hero.  Who doesn't love that?
19. Of all the people in Gotham City, just one beat cop has figured out who Batman really is?  Really?
20. Selina Kyle is totally playing the Han Solo role here.
21. Blowing up the stadium is exciting visually, but more and more we find the killing of innocents to lack the sort of raw entertainment appeal it used to have for us.
22. We know they did work to make Bane more intelligible.  But we didn't couldn't understand a lot of what he said.
23. Credit the filmmakers for making a sequel that actually requires knowledge of the previous two films.  This trilogy is indeed one long story.  So bonus points for that.  If you didn't see Batman Begins, you'll likely be lost trying to understand all this fuss about the League of Shadows.
24. Great line from Bane about the stock market.  Some flunky tells him there's no money there to steal.  He says, "No?  Then why are all of you here?"
25. Overall, a missed opportunity.