Category Archives: Cable Shows

Pretty Little Liars: Run, Ali, Run

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After all the shootings, explosions, and accidental deaths this season already, I feel like the tag line should be changed to “What do we say to death? Not today.” Alas, that line belongs to a show with more prestige (but surprisingly less backstabbing) and instead we are left with our favorite liars once again trying to figure out who tried to set them on fire most recently. Coming off an episode where many of the loose threads in regards to the relationships on the show came to a head in the most awkward possible way, only to have Toby’s house blown to bits in the closing moments, it was obvious heading into this hour we were in for a heavy case of moody Liars. Disappointed, I was not.

Not a scene went by without someone (Spencer or Ali) crying, or someone (Aria) being incredibly dumb, or someone (Hannah and Emily) having tense confrontations with people who don’t have their best interests at heart. We barely even got a light coffee shop scene this week! Only a brief stop-in with awkward Caleb and Spencer’s mom being blindsided by her estranged husband while sipping a very Hastings-esque espresso. Although there were decidedly fewer songs used this week in favor of the show’s standard horror-tinged score, there was still one quality choice that I appreciated, albeit in a scene that I did not.

But first, the “coffee shop soundtrack” portion of this week’s musical lineup…

It Wants What It Wants” by Andrew Belle

Hannah and Caleb being awkward exes in public is going to get very old very quickly, but until then I’m completely OK with her trying to awkwardly resist his hotness and convince herself that Travis is the better choice. Only so many times you can drunk dial your ex-boyfriend until your current boyfriend catches on, hun! Pretty Little Liars is at its best when laying the sappiness on thick, and this was no exception. One of the many skills of the PLL music department is making every coffee shop scene in the show seem like a meet cute when it could be a murder plotting session or a stalker staking out the best surveillance corner. It’s a tactic that works best in this show only because every scene without someone bleeding out or being chased through a dark forest can effectively be treated as a relaxed tableau and thus be soundtracked that way. If the lyrics of this Andrew Belle song were actually audible during Hannah and Caleb’s conversation the song would be exposed as the overtly-literal choice it was, but with ambient noises drowning the specifics out, it works just fine. Belle’s voice is slightly too much of a Gregory Alan Isakov or Jeremy Messersmith rip-off so I can’t give him too much praise for originality, but his aesthetic works in a “free CD at Starbucks” sort of way.

“On The Other Side” by Peter Bradley Adams and “Gonna Be Okay” by Matthew Perryman Jones

Well, it seems as if the only action the coffee shop got this week was to be the setting for incredibly awkward encounters. Both meetings between Mrs. Hastings and Spencer were tinged with stress and sadness, the first time these emotions represented by Mrs. Hastings side of the table and the second by Spencer’s understandable emotional response about her parents’ continuing separation. Not every family on PLL is represented in an entirely honest or accurate representation, but the Hastings family has consistently been the exception to that trend, especially when it comes to conversations between Spencer and her mother. They are probably the only two people on the show who understand a lot of the craziness that is happening in their lives and are willing to discuss it even when it could lead to distress for either themselves or other members of the family. Both of these song choices faded into the background quite a bit, but if you listen to them outside of the show and imagine you could have heard them playing in these scenes they work fairly well. The Jones choice was just short of too literal, seeing as the song title being used for a repetitive chorus was a little much for when Spencer finds out her parents are splitting up permanently in a public place, but those are options I can live with as long as the general feel of the scene meshes with the music.

“Fool For You” by Garrison Starr & AG

It almost feel bad for disliking the Alison/Emily scene so much, as the music choice was my favorite of the episode by a long shot and perfect for what the show was aiming for here. My main issue stems from how this attraction has been handled in the past when looking back on how Alison treated the other girls during their original friendship. Hannah’s weight problems, Spencer’s academics-induced drug issues, and Aria’s sullenness due to Alison’s presence years ago were all treated as side effects that had a huge impact on their early high school experiences, and therefore we were made aware of these interactions and pressures as close as possible to the beginning of the series. In Emily’s case however, we didn’t get any insight in regards to her relationship with Alison until multiple seasons into the show, and at that point the entire storyline about Alison knowing about her preference in partners came off as exploitative and shoehorned compared to the rest of the girls’ memories of their manipulative best friend. Even giving the show the benefit of the doubt as to when they deployed these flashbacks, seeing as the audience didn’t know Emily was gay until well into the series as well, I’ve never bought in to the theory that Alison could be bisexual or flat out gay and the writers never put in the legwork that would convince me as such.

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The show doesn’t seem to want to go so far as to admit she was exploiting Emily the entire time and still may be in order to give Alison some additional emotional shading as a character, but until they commit fully one way or another I have no interest in this dance between the two girls and would much prefer Emily to find herself in a healthy relationship with someone who supports her sexuality and has no interest in manipulating it or her for their own gains. A narrative choice such as that would also go a long way towards the show having a healthy representation of a same-sex relationship now that they blew up the Paige and Emily romance that was so nice to see for multiple seasons and character arcs. This may not be the goal of the show, but seeing as how many LGBTQ youths are assuredly watching PLL, maybe it would be in their best interests to give Emily (or Paige) a relationship with a trustworthy partner like the other girls have been fortunate enough to receive in their narratives instead of someone who once tried to kill them or someone who has ulterior motives and is using a gay friend who they know is vulnerable in order to achieve them. Aria, Spencer, and Hannah have all had multiple boyfriends or temporary love interests with no shady background (or a suspicion that only lasted one episode before being proven incorrect by well-timed sleuthing), yet Emily got a semi-abusive ex-boyfriend shortly before she came out and incredibly suspicious girlfriends every step of the way after that. I beg of you, PLL writers, let Emily have a happy relationship for at least a little while and don’t turn Alison coming home into an exploitative mess of a storyline.

Now, putting this mini-rant aside for the moment, the song choice was actually very good. Garrison Starr has a Weepies sort of quality to her voice without seeming like a rip-off of any particular artist. She is a Southern songstress originally hailing from Mississippi, and the loneliness of many of her songs seem to stem directly from her time growing up in that area of the country. “Fool For You” is not currently available to listen online, but another song that I am a fan of was and if you substituted it into this scene it would have worked in a similarly effective way.

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So You Think You Can Dance: Top 20, 2 Eliminated

Last week, we got our first look at the Top 20 dancers performing live on stage. This week, two of those dancers will find themselves in the unenviable position of heading home first leaving only 18 left in the competition. The dancers will also find themselves out of their comfort zones in regards to styles of dance assigned to each pairing after having the opportunity to show off their preferred styles last week. The show maintains the same elimination format that it adopted last season, with the bottom six being announced by Cat at the top of the show but still getting to dance their planned routines before the judges make a final decision The guest judge beside Mary and Nigel this week is Misty Copeland, former principal soloist of the American Ballet Theater and one of my favorite judges from the audition rounds returning for her live show debut. I had no idea she first began ballet at the age of 13 and not four or five which is when most professional ballerinas in the world began their training (as informal as early ballet classes are). It makes me love her that much more.

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Top 20 Group Dance – Broadway (choreographed by Josh Bergasse), “New York, New York” by the Original Broadway Cast of On the Town 

One of my favorite movie musicals of all time ( and one I still own on DVD), any song from “On the Town” would have been a nice choice for a routine here but this one worked wonderfully. It’s a perfect staging for a large group of people while that is still a possibility, and most importantly it looks like everyone is having fun on stage instead of focusing too hard on where their next step will fall. This piece was also a realistic way to represent and interweave many styles together whereas last week it looked overwrought and out of place if a jazz sequence transitioned into a  contemporary sequence. My one complaint here is that the girls did not have much to do, which is understandable seeing as the story centers around three male sailors enjoying the city, but disappointing nonetheless.

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So. FOX really loves their corporate shilling, huh? At first I wondered why the entire panel was wearing baseball uniforms, but I should have known it was a deal Nigel made with the network to save his ass in the future.  Anything they can do to keep this show on the air is fine by me, but this particular instance of promotional tactics stung due to its blatancy. More on this later on.

Tanisha & Rudy – Jazz (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), “You Need” by Bengsons

Tanisha does not do abrupt movements well, which is more of a letdown than an outright surprise. The routine as a whole underwhelmed me in its timidness; Sonya said it was about aggression and I’m not entirely convinced I saw much passion or aggression for more than a quarter of their time on stage. The urgency of the music should have dictated the sharpness of their movements more, yet it looked like a first or second dress rehearsal instead of a performance in front of a live and excited audience. Although I liked the bit with the chairs scooting inwards at the end, the movements that transitioned into that fun moment were lacking in energy too. I disagreed with literally everything the judges felt about this dance (this turns into a running theme tonight) and I hope at least Tanisha is in the bottom three next week. Maybe I’m being too harsh for this early in the live shows, as the dancers always improve markedly after the first few Top 20 performances as they get used to the format and rehearsal schedule, but I don’t think so.

Valerie & Ricky – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), Oh Darling” by Gossling

My first thought when they announced he was choreography these two dancers was please stop wasting Travis Wall on people that don’t deserve him. And by ‘people’ I mean ‘tappers’. Valerie ended up acquitting herself respectably with the routine, but at most points it looked like Ricky was carrying her through this performance both literally and figuratively. There’s a difference between being simply thrown around by your partner and having some agency as a dancer while being lifted and thrown. Even while acknowledging the aesthetic of the routine was meant to have a rag doll quality to it, the emotional punch was lacking because of Valerie’s performance opposite Ricky. The one part that made me sit up and pay proper attention was the slow dip to the floor while Valerie was standing on Ricky’s knees need the end. Ricky maintains the frontrunner status he cemented in the first week, and at this point I almost hope the judges acknowledge that and just toss him Travis Wall/Sonya Tayeh routines every week. [Sidenote: I never want Cat to stop saying dance partayyy]

Bridget & Emilio – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Luther Brown), “Work” by Iggy Azalea

An issue that most ballerinas find themselves confronting when transitioning into other styles, Bridget very much needs to stop smiling when she is trying to paint a sexy, aggressive, or sad picture with through dance. Emilio brought everything he had here and made Bridget look better as a result, although Bridget did just fine on her own. Both overcame the early slip up of Bridget’s necklace falling to the stage, which shows that they are both comfortably performing live and can handle on-stage difficulties. Iggy fits this routine well, as the story isn’t so serious as to necessitate a more intense rap and most of the action matches up with the focus of her lyrics. In a routine about a hot girl strutting her stuff in front of a guy, what better than a song that plays in clubs where hot girls strut their stuff in front of guys? Hoping neither goes home any time soon, as I feel like Emilio could teach Bridget how to look more intense on stage which will for sure help her as a soloist down the road, and Bridge brings out a great energy in Emilio’s dancing.

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Jessica & Nick – West Coast Swing (choreographed by Benji Schwimmer), Respect” by Aretha Franklin (Live ca. 1971)

As much as I was excited to see Benji come back for the first of his standard couple appearances every year, this was a huge disappointment. The only way Jessica’s injury could have impacted this dance is with her confidence levels early in the routine, yet I wish it was slightly more severe so I would have something on which to blame this performance. Neither dancer was committing fully to the lifts and swings that were required, Nick got completely lost at multiple points as well. He’s clearly not a strong enough dancer for this type of routine, and his showing here all but locked in his elimination tonight. I did love Jessica’s shuffle across the stage as it was one of the few moments that had really energy and fun. Jessica’s pantsuit is great for this type of routine, allowing lifts to be performed more easily and placing her solidly in the 70’s era while dancing to the Aretha classic. I would argue one of the main reasons Benji got so carried away with the difficulty of this routine is partially due to his choice of music. As the song picked up the pace, so too did the steps which is how it should be. However, these two dancers were not expert enough to keep up with that pace and were overwhelmed as a consequence. The entire thing could have benefited greatly from a steadier 70’s jam.

Carly & Serge – Contemporary (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), Latch” by Sam Smith

All of my Sam Smith dreams are coming true y’all. It was only a matter of time before a song off his debut album tracked a routine, and I am so happy it was a Sonya Tayeh routine. Not only did she choreograph a beautiful piece that worked well with Smith’s acoustic version of one of his strongest songs off the album, but Carly and Serge both made up hugely for their performances last week. All of their lifts were executed effortlessly and lovingly, giving Serge an opportunity to prove that the partnering skills he had during callbacks didn’t disappear. I hope these dancers don’t get broken up for a while because they both work so well together and look comfortable on the stage for the first time this season. The emotion just pouring out of this routine was breathtaking to watch and went a long way towards making me love one or both of these dancers and their talents when neither have been a personal favorite throughout the process that got them to the Top 20.

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Emily & Teddy – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Dave Scott), Don’t” by Ed Sheeran

Of all things, I definitely wouldn’t have expected back to back episodes with songs by Ed Sheeran, yet here we are. I also would not have expected anything from Sheeran’s catalogue to work so well with a hip-hop routine but once again, proven wrong. Teddy and Emily wouldn’t have been two dancers that I would have matched up right off the bat if given the option but the chemistry they bring to the stage works like gangbusters. Emily has the same problem Bridget did in that she smiles far too much at the audience instead of focusing on her routine and the mood that she should be representing.  Note to producers: put Teddy in suspenders more often. A cute, fun, energetic routine, that was well executed by both parties (especially after learning Emily’s back went in to spasms during rehearsals) that should be just enough to land them in the middle of the pack next week even if I’ll probably forget it ever happened three weeks from now.

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Malene & Stanley – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), I’ve Got Your Number” by Nancy Wilson

Even if I agreed with her ending up there, I was shocked to see Malene in the bottom 6 this week as I thought voter love would be on her side, but after this routine I’m OK with it. The largest issue here was a huge overuse of the phones as props, resulting in Malene and Stanley not being able to interact for more than 2 seconds at a time. They weren’t in synch during the parts they were supposed to be, and didn’t look like they were even supposed to be playing off each other for the rest of the time. Malene looked uncomfortable and stiff on the stage. Nancy Wilson’s music would have been a nice choice for a Broadway routine that had more entertainment in it but here I was focusing more on the depressing misuse of “I’ve Got Your Number” for this choreography. The failings of the dance were mostly Spencer’s fault as a choreographer as this would have been nice as a solo routine for a 40’s era movie musical, but not for a competition of this sort. All of the judges agreed they didn’t have any sort of chemistry as dancers, and I’m on board with the panel wholeheartedly. Hopefully this routine didn’t shake Stanley’s confidence or hurt his chances at a deep run in the competition.

Jordan & Marcquet – Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheeseman), Work Bitch” by Britney Spears

This routine was…hmm…how to phrases this…so. freaking. hot. Jordan redeemed herself in her jumps and lifts off the table as well as in the way she connected with Marcquet in order to sell the opposition of the dance. Both of them worked great together as dancers, the only nitpick really being that it seemed like they ran out of energy during the last 30 seconds of the routine. Jordan was the first girl all night that transitioned to a different style confidently and successfully, but fell into the same trap as the others by smiling when it was entirely unnecessary. I would have been happier with the use of “Work Bitch” if the routine didn’t have such a clear story, which the song didn’t really work well with entirely. A more loosely plotted dance that took place on the street or in another more casual setting may have been more believable for Britney to be singing in the background (an Olivia Newton John inspired work out themed dance, anyone?).

Brooklyn & Casey – Argentine Tango (choreographed by Miriam and Leonardo), Gallo Ciego” by Luis Bravo’s Forever Tango

First off and most importantly, I have to point out just how beautiful and impressive the strings in “Gallo Ciego” were. This routine required half a rewind because I caught myself getting more lost in the music than watching the dancers on stage. Early on, it looked as if they were focusing too hard on the intense movements of the dance and not feeling the music and emotion of the piece, but that changed after the first minute and transitioned into one of the best routines of the night. Both dancers showed off their impressive lines and Brooklyn was on point with her flicks and extensions throughout the piece. I didn’t feel what Mary was saying about the two of them melting together at all, but I also didn’t need that from this routine at all. An Argentine Tango is more about each dancer executing every movement perfectly and maintaining the proper spacing and positioning than the partners coming off as fluid.

Jacque & Zack – African Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheeseman), Dibiza – Kick Ass Mix” by Danny Tenaglia

The good news is that were was at least some energy present, but the bad news is that it was not quite enough to make this kind of routine work. They looked out of shape and tired by the end, not even getting their kicks up past their knees during the last few bars. A fun piece from Sean (and a welcome respite from the more traditional African Jazz routines we have seen on the show before) but even with all the splashes of color and floofs all over the place it didn’t leave much of an impression. Both need to work on their placement in relation to each other and the stage, as Zack almost flew right off the edge at one point near the middle. Zack looked good to me but in a way that was more “looked good for a tapper” than looking good outright as a dancer. Even while appreciating the vision and inspiration that Sean had here I disagreed with the judges’ opinions once again, making me being on the opposite side of the fence from the panel an official theme of the night.

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I would almost never object to a group of talented people dancing to Beyonce, but the dance crew routine went on way too long and lost whatever originality it had when the ladies kept the exact same pacing and movements going throughout the piece. This whole thing is a complete waste of time, and I would rather have Misty Copeland performing or another talented professionally than this farce of a side-competition. Or better yet, give us more than 10 seconds to get to know the 20 dancers you still have in the real competition.

As far as the closing eliminations, I’m not super sad to see Malene go as I think most of her maturation as a dancer was done after callbacks. Yes, she got let down by Spencer’s choreography this week but she also didn’t bring much of her own touch to it besides looking good dressed as a 60’s pin-up girl. Nick was the obvious choice to be sent home and I’m happy the judges chose properly there. I did get sad watching Ricky cry in the corral of dancers as his friend got eliminated though. Looking at the overall trends this episode, the girls need to stop grinning from ear to ear throughout every routine and most of the boys need to work on becoming stronger partners.

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It’s a little sad to see all of the corporate shilling that Nigel and Co. are forced into at this point. National Dance Day and a few musical acts here and there are one thing, but forcing them into MLB team jerseys to promote the upcoming All Star Game is too much. How much of a crossover does FOX even think there is for those audiences? Myself, and maybe 4 others? Not only is it an ineffective marketing strategy for an event that already has enough promotion, but it risks turning off even a small percentage of the remaining So You Think You Can Dance audience. It is an obvious and embarrassing promotional tactic by the network and I can only hope we see less of it in the future.

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The Definitive Guide to Pretty Little Liars’ 100th Episode Soundtrack

Tonight, Pretty Little Liars aired its 100th episode ever. That means 100 episodes of black gloves, initialed text messages, secret trysts, and a whole lot of lying by every single person on the show. That also meant that PLL brought its A-game (had to with the pun, sorry) tonight in every which way. In an episode where Ali and Mona outright bitch slapped each other as hard as they could in true nighttime soap tradition and Aria and Ezra had creepy makeup sex, the soundtrack to the episode still stood out to me the most. Between perfectly chosen original music from up-and-coming artists to covers I didn’t even know I wanted on this show the episode came together from top to bottom largely due to the soap-tastic music cues. Below, a full guide of songs used in the episode in chronological order with some quick thoughts on each. (My overall thoughts on the episode: a lot of “holy shit!’s” and “sure why not’s”)

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The worst couples in the world, all gathered in one room.

Rachel Platten, “Begin Again”

One thing I’ve always enjoyed about nighttime soaps is that there is already so much cheese worked into the general aesthetic of the show that any song choices that go with the scene word for word such as this one don’t seem overly sappy or out of place, they seem as if they were written for this particular use and this use alone. Ali walking into school as a quote unquote changed person is about as unbelievable as most of the events that take place on PLL, but the show wants us to believe it so using a song such as this that spells out how hard she is trying to start over and put on a brave (fake or not) face actually works well here. Platten has been a quietly amazing artist for the past few years, with some minor radio success nationally and much critical acclaim. “Begin Again” has not been released as a single thus far but Rachel is a friend of a friend so I can personally attest to her talents as a pianist and a songwriter as I have seen her perform multiple times. Keep an eye out for the release of this track in the near future, but until then I would recommend the rest of her catalogue whole heartedly. Her 2011 hit “1,000 Ships” is a great place to start.

Wild Club, “Thunder Clatter”

Hanna getting wasted at a party in the woods seemed entirely unnecessary to this episode as whole except to get Lucas worried about her mental state and so she could drunk dial Caleb a million times (the lyric “it was hidden in the fall, waiting on love to call ties in perfectly there). Actually, thinking about it that seems exactly right for what a high school party in the woods was for most people at my school, so I guess an accurate portrayal of a mom putting her drunk daughter to bed and accidentally gleaning some rare information about her personal life in the process is welcome in a show filled with strained parent-child relationships. Such as the party was a spot-on portrayal of that aspect of high school social life, so is the song that accompanied the scene as it would be right at home on any Spotify playlist droning on in the background of a bunch of drunk 17 year-olds playing flip cup. Keep it in mind for your next pregame this summer, as it’s a sure bet to pick the mood up. If you aren’t a 20-something who still needs to stash away drinks before going out to a bar where you have to pay for that stuff, the youthful energy and instrumental would also make a solid addition to any “driving around aimlessly in beautiful weather” playlist.

Michelle Anderson, “Alone”

Another of the song reflecting the situation a little too perfectly. Unlike the first two songs in the episode tonight, this was not only too on the nose but didn’t bring anything to the scene besides a literal musical interpretation of a conversation between characters. Caleb showing up at the coffee shop and surprising Hanna was nothing but incredibly creepy and out of the blue. We all know Ravenswood got canceled after a 10 episode run, and that entire plot detour was explained away in one line, but we can’t just act like Caleb showing up out of nowhere and standing behind his ex-girlfriend is normal. Also, he cut his hair into a gelled up mess so he’s basically no longer welcome in these parts. The song’s repetition of “never alone, never alone” only adds to the creep levels at play here. The one thing Anderson’s lyrics and voice have going here is that they truly sound like the kind of bland pop that is played at coffee shops all the time. Good thing this small town latte vender pressed play on this particular background blandness right as Creepy Caleb had a craving for a cappuccino.

Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”

Hands down, this was the best music cue of the night. It was one of the only songs that added any emotional connection or desire to pay attention to the scene at all. The use of this music as Aria walks into Jenna’s house to see her blindly sobbing on her bedroom floor was certifiably creepy and had me on the edge of my seat expecting some great tragedy to have befallen Jenna or some such. It wouldn’t be the first time one of The Liars wandered into a near-abandoned house of a crazy person and nearly paid for their stupidity. Obel’s haunting voice melds exquisitely with the scene’s setting and the overall feel the show was going for. The song is filled with longing, sadness, and beauty at the same time. The way the instrumental stays mostly steady in the background but lets the vocals take the main stage for the most part works wonders when it comes to putting you inside the emotions of the characters on screen, and using it during a largely wordless scene that takes its time to unfold only helps.

Denmark & Winter, “Every Breath You Take”

I mentioned briefly above this episode included a cover I wasn’t even aware I would be happy to hear, and here we are. Denmark & Winter bring an  even creepier feeling to this Police classic than the original band did when it was first recorded. At least The Police had the common decency to make their version somewhat upbeat and happy so it would take longer than 10 seconds for people to realize how hardcore stalker the lyrics are. It sounds like a love song when Sting sings it, but with Denmark & Winter behind the microphone the serial killer quality of it is all that more apparent, which is probably as it should be. So what better use for this great cover than a scene where Ezra and Aria once again fall into bed with each other in all of their statutory rape glory. This was bound to happen, as the writers can only say no to fans clamoring for this for so long. I have no need to see these two maintain their relationship just for the ‘shipping community to be happy, but if the show is slowly coming around to the insanity of this pairing than I might be OK with where this storyline goes. Maybe Aria can remember that they thought Ezra was A and then found out he was sexing up Ali before they met? For five seconds? So she doesn’t seem like such a tart in great clothes every once in a while? No? Ah well. Maybe Death Cab for Cutie can cover “Turn Around and Look at Me” by The Vogues the next time Ezria goes out for a nice dinner.

Plumb, “I Don’t Deserve You”

I like Plumb well enough. I’ve heard a few songs of hers before despite never being a huge fan of her overall catalogue. This song is just fine, not great nor awful, but the weird part about it being used in this episode is that it was originally recorded as a contemporary Christian rock ode to God’s love and yet is played in a scene where Spencer and Toby take part in some pretty heavy petting in his truck and who knows what else. I’m not nearly religious enough to mind this in any way, but you would think the music supervisor here could have chosen a song that wasn’t so explicit in its original meaning for a scene such as this. Without knowing the primary intention of the song it does make a nice pairing with Toby declaring his love and dedication for Miss Spence for the 3400th time this year, I just can’t shake the though that there were an abundance of other options out there for a teenage love scene than this particular choice.

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Orphan Black: Clone Dance Party Music

It’s looking like I won’t have time for a full review of last night’s Orphan Black finale due to my schedule today, but I hope we can all agree that the best moment of a very uneven episode was the clone dance party and sleepover at Felix’s loft. You could tell John and Graeme wanted to save something special for the finale besides all of the mythological reveals, and this was a technological and emotional surprise well worth the wait. Not only did we get all four main clones in the same room at the same time, but we also got to witness the wonderful qualities of Helena’s dancing. Tatiana Maslany has been quoted in the past as saying there were certain dances she uses to get into each character’s specific mindset and personality, and it is interesting to re-watch the scene and the dancing with that in mind.

Regardless of some of the twists the show left us with last night and an uncertain future for half the characters, we’ll always have the sight of Alison slapping Felix’s ass. Below, the “Making of” for the original scene and the song Cosima puts on to spur the entire thing (Water Prayer Rasta Mix) for all of your “press repeat” needs. The song choice was spot on for Cosima’s personality, as it seems like something she would have had on file in college during a Saturday chock full of weed, RPG’s, and science in the dorms.

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Halt and Catch Music: I/O

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If you turned on AMC at any point in the last two months, my guess is that you saw a commercial for the premier of Halt and Catch fire. And if so, you are now like me and have AMC PTSD (trademark pending) whenever your playlist at work turns to the Eurythmics classic “Sweet Dreams” (I actually had to leave the room when this happened today). From the weeks upon weeks of hearing the same song in Halt and Catch Fire promos, I was certain, and nervous, that the soundtrack of the show would be in a similar vein. That is, the shlock-laden Top 40 hits of the 80’s that every person between the ages of 16 and 70 has heard hundreds of times at school dances and theme parties. Based on the last few shows AMC has rolled out in the wake of Breaking Bad and Mad Men my expectations were not high, and the direction they seemed to be going with the soundtrack did not help.

Fortunately, both the composer and music director behind the show decided they would go in a completely different and well executed direction, which serves the show well in both entertainment and storytelling quality. Instead of steering into the 80’s skid of chart-toppers, they went the way of The Americans and dug into the deep cuts of the decade in order to properly build a world in which these characters would have actually lived and worked. Unlike the classic rock of The Americans however, Halt is focused more on the music that a bunch of computer geniuses and would-be business moguls would actually have playing in the background as they attempted to reverse engineer a computer. From the minute the modern-yet-appropriate theme song begins (“Still on Fire” by Danish electronic composer Trentemoller), they adhere to this tone completely.

The excellently chosen music speaks to how focused this particular show is when it comes to being character focused as opposed to all story all the time. In no way am I comparing this show to Mad Men (yet…) but it is so enjoyable to see a show AMC touts as the next big character drama actually be a good character drama and support the story with it’s music/actors rather than the other way around. This isn’t an entirely effortless endeavor, of course, because nothing PR-related AMC does is allowed to look like they did it by accident anymore. Not only did they release the pilot online in advance of the premiere, but they are also forcing “character inspired playlists” down everyone’s throats on a weekly basis. The first, a Spotified representation of Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan, was released before the premiere but there is no clear through line in that list that gives any further insight in to who the character is or his motivations. Rather, it is simply a list of good 80’s music he might have playing in his Ferrari. I will give the marketing department credit for being clever on this one, but the landing is botched.

I guess we’re lucky the marketing department is only behind promotional music and not that of the actual show, as it is lucky to have the talents of composer Paul Haslinger and music supervisor Thomas Golubic behind the scenes. A very good interview between Haslinger and Paste Magazine gives some insight as to where his inspiration came from for his work here, and his comment about identifying most closely with the Scoot McNairy’s Gordon Clark makes a lot of sense as he has the most important and dynamic plot here and presumably will for at least the first chunk of this inaugural season. Although there’s no way to tell for sure, Golubic seems to feel the same way. I was particularly impressed with the use of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi” during the first scene with McNairy and Kerry Bishe, who plays his wife Donna (coincidentally, these two actors are reprising their roles as a husband and wife pairing after their performances in Argo). Almost any CCR song would have been suitable for this simple kitchen conversation, but the care it took to pick out “Lodi” as the one most appropriate for this particular interaction is noticeable and appreciated.

Overall, the music may be what keeps me around for longer than a few episodes. Lee Pace and his perfect eyebrows will surely help, but they can only do so much with so many other shows to keep up with on television right now. Other songs you may have picked up on in this episode were “Complicated” by XTC (my second favorite music cue after “Lodi”), “Wanna Be Manor” by The Vandals, and “The Magnificent Seven” by The Clash. (Side note: If anyone could make out what song was playing during the bar scene between Joe and Cameron fill me in.) All great choices, hopefully the soundtracks for future episodes maintain this level of commitment and time period perfection. We shall see.

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Louie: Two Violins in a Stairwell

 

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One of the things about Louie that has always set it apart for me in regards to other half hour comedy/dramas (besides the already obvious genre bending) is the way Louis CK is not at all afraid to let awkward or unfortunate moments just sit and air out for what sometimes seems like minutes at a time. Forcing the audience to boil in the discomfort is the difference between us simply understanding something he is going through is awkward and truly feeling that same awful twinge in our guts that the fictional character on our screen has. Most of the time, he purposefully spurns any and all musical accompaniment to these scenes to fully wring out any remaining distractions there may be. Nothing but silence and character interactions hold our attention. Louis has become so deft and consistent with this over multiple seasons I have now come to expect at least one of these scenes in each episode. They are, after all, what the tone of the show is continually based around. Louie’s inability to read the majority of social situations and not be a complete idiot during many of them is what he does best.

However, it has gotten to the point where when I expect to be made uncomfortable he flips the script and gives us something sweet instead. I’m unsure whether this is intentional on his part or simply a matter of my mind thinking it knows what’s about to happen when in reality it has no idea what the next scene will bring. That feeling is one of the reasons that the pace and attitude of Louie has begun to feel even more well done over the last season, give or take a few episodes. Finally getting used to the rhythm and story beats of a show, only to have it keep things fresh and turn it around on you, is one of the things TV excels at as a medium. This is exactly what happened last night during the second of the two episodes that aired (Elevator Parts 2/3). Throughout both episodes, there were moments that made my skin crawl. Among the many, Louie not understanding that his Hungarian neighbor’s niece did in fact want to see him again, having to explain yet another indiscretion from Jane to his ex-wife, and having to turn Pam down cold after she had already made an advance. Nothing quite as bad as punching a model in the face after sleeping with her, but still.

So, when Louie and Jane began to climb the stairs to his apartment on their way home from school and Amia walks out of her aunt’s apartment in the process of taking out the trash I was prepared for nothing but more cringing. Here Louie is, in the middle of his “not really a girlfriend” girl friend and his daughter, and you can see on his face he has no idea what to say or how to handle the situation without being his classic self and screwing something up. He goes with the easiest method of straight up introducing the two parties, until Jane shocks him by knowing how to say hello in Hungarian. Again, his face falls somewhere between “what is happening” and “my daughter is pretty awesome huh”. From there, the scene goes somewhere so sweet and beautiful that I re-watched it a few times today individually only to see it get better every time. When Amia goes and retrieves her violin from the apartment and starts to play it’s a nice (yet possibly strange) touch, but when Jane makes it a duet it turns it into something so unexpected and lovely to watch.

If you haven’t already, watch this scene over again (embedded above) and look only at Louie’s face while they play (sort of tough I know). This is where his ability to react to things in such a pure and realistic way comes in handy. Here they are, these two women who mean so much to him at this moment in time, and he could not even have considered possessing the ability to introduce them to each other in this way. Eszter Balint and Ursula Parker also bring a necessary human quality to their playing in addition to their pure talent. Even though Balint and Parker are both incredibly accomplished violinists, here they seems talented but not overly so in a way that would shatter the illusion of their characters. They say music is the universal language, but it is rare on television when we get a scene where that adage is as clearly laid out as here. Two skilled musicians introducing themselves through the enjoyment of their craft is great to watch no matter the stage, and the landing of an NYC walk up seems as good a place as any to make some musical magic happen. Well done once again by Louie/Louis for writing and staging something of this caliber, and by Parker and Balint for executing it so well.

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Orphan Black: You’ve Got Me Head Over Heels

 Something happens and I’m head over heels
I never find out till I’m head over heels

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I don’t have a huge amount to say about this episode of Orphan Black, but felt that the acknowledgement of one of the best musical cues on any TV show in the past year was imperative. It continues to amaze me how well this show utilizes every character in its arsenal, and manages to make time for great, humorous, sweet moments amidst all of the bloodshed and blackmailing. Most other shows would have been content to pack an episode to the gills with double-crossing, children in gas masks and their lips sewn shut, and a sniper showdown in a warehouse, but Orphan Black has understood where its strengths lie from the very beginning and continues to put a smile on my face with the less tense moments that pop up.

This week, that moment was Felix prepping for a booty call like he was a 17 year old heading out to see his first Culture Club cover band perform on a date. Any sequence that involved Felix bouncing around the loft trying on countless pairs of skinny jeans and patterned/sheer button ups would already be a winner, and then they decided to add “Head Over Heels” by  Tears for Fears  as a soundtrack to the montage and it put a cherry on top of the whole thing. Of course, the quickie with a long-lost beau was interrupted by Hot Paul and a gang of police officers because it is still Orphan Black after all, but it was fun while it lasted. I wasn’t able to pull a proper gif of Felix in the mirror, but here’s the original “Head Over Heels music video. There’s really no bad time to listen to Tears for Fears.

A few other quick notes on “Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est”:

  • The title translates as “knowledge itself is power”, which explains a lot.
  • I mentioned it briefly above, but Grace turning to the camera with her lips sewn shut was horrifying. Even more horrifying, her mother pulling the stitches out of her lips after casually mentioning how her daughter is in danger of being a unwitting surrogate.
  • Not nearly enough Cal in this episode, way too much Hot Paul. At least the moments with Cal moved his story forward, because everyone knew the “he has a gun/large rolls of cash drop was coming eventually. I’m glad it was revealed sooner rather than later.
  • Couldn’t help but think of “The Empty Child” when Kiera appeared from within the trailer in a gas mask.
  • “He is brother seestra?”

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Laura Welsh Soundtracks New Masters of Sex Trailer

And I need you to help me through

I can’t lay these ghosts to rest

And though I’m scared and it’s dark

Oh I know it’s all a mess

Just released via THR, the new Masters of Sex trailer arrived today and it is, predictably, a doozy. Last season had some drama in regards to the intra-hospital relationships but from what this minute long clip shows the excitement quotient seems to have been cranked up a notch now that there is such a solid foundation of characters for the show to utilize. Based off of what we see here, I’m excited to see what Michael Sheen gets to do with a broken down and jobless Masters, while Virginia is still (somewhat) employed by the hospital. Also very pleased that Annaleigh Ashford seems to have returned to the show full time this season as captivating and talented as usual. It would be great if she got to show off her vocal chops this season similar to how Lizzy Caplan got to do during the first season, but I could also understand if she wants to separate her Broadway fame from her television opportunities for the time being.

 

 

The song playing during this teaser is “Ghosts” by Laura Welsh. The haunting qualities of her voice combined with the lyrics specifically chosen for the teaser was a great choice by Showtime’s marketing team. Pairs well, and increases the excitement I have for the show effortlessly.

 

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Orphan Black: Hello, Cal

And as we will lay, be reminded of the day, 

By the noises of footsteps and the slamming of doors, 

And the drilling and sighing of the workers under our bed. 

After press stills and promotional shots galore, Michiel Huisman finally joined the cast of Orphan Black this week so I hope everyone’s ready for some good old fashioned objectification from yours truly. I’m sorry but Hot Paul never really did it for me, despite the million dollar chin and his ability to know his way around a handgun. Huisman has been a welcome addition to other shows before this (Game of Thrones, Treme, Nashville) but for some reason this is the first time he’s come on screen and felt like a fully built character right away. It may be that his acting skills really can rise to any occasion, or it may be that his role here is the closest match to his personality and lifestyle in real life that he can slide into the role with ease. I could absolutely picture him holing up in a remote cabin somewhere in between busy shooting schedules and just enjoying nature and a cold beer. When he walked out the back yard to talk to not-long-for-this-world-Tom with a flannel button up and two chilled beers in his hand I almost fainted from the perfection. That was like a Levi’s ad come to life and it left me swooning.

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Something tells me Graeme Mason and Co. made sure to make Cal as appealing as possible, which I actually like for character reasons as well as the obvious ones. Every male figure on the show so far (besides Felix, duh) has come with either huge baggage or danger attached. Paul was never Sarah’s from the beginning, Art has been skeptical and an impediment for most of the time, and everyone else with a Y chromosome is a Rachel lackey. It will be nice to see someone from Sarah’s former life who actually seems to care about her be a part of this universe for once. His talk about government contracts and being forced out of a corporation did make me worry that there was some sort of long con happening here and that he was part of the clonespiracy all along but it doesn’t seem like that is where the show is heading, which is nice. Of course, everybody’s motives are subject to change at the drop of a hat but his willingness to protect Kiera one second and whip out a hunting rifle the next can only mean good things for where this Cal’s loyalties lie.

So much of the well-executed character building I touched on above was due to the mood the show built around Cal and his cabin before he even arrived. With every plot getting about the same amount of time this week  A safe haven, even one they arrived at because of past lies, felt like a welcome respite from the running and fighting Sarah and Felix have been through of late. The silence of the forest gave the impression that this getaway would work out for the better, which it did. At least for a short while, that is. The cabin itself felt so lived in and appropriate for a woodsy abode that I caught myself wondering if it was available for Airbnb anytime this summer. Orphan Black has stood by its commitment to not revealing where the show is actually set, but if one were to assume the answer was, say, Toronto and Sarah made the decision to cross a border on her way out of town, this would be a very well done representation of an upstate New York or back-country Vermont home right down to the attic bedroom and chicken coop outside.

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What tied everything together for me, especially in regards to the Sarah/Cal romantic angle was the use of Tim Moxam’s “Live In The Bedroom” as the music choice for when the two started to, well, “reunite”. A really wonderful use of the doorframe by director T.J. Scott here, slowly zooming in as they both hesitate to move closer at first and then give in to the chemistry that is so readily apparent between them. Moxam, former guitarist for Toronto-based band Great Bloomers now turned solo, plays music that is so up my alley from the start there wasn’t much chance one of his songs popping up would disappoint. Released last October, his first solo EP is a well balanced blend of folk, bluegrass, and blues. The closest comparison I can think of for those who aren’t already fans would be that his music has the sadness of Gregory Alan Isakov with the instrumental affectations found most recently in Jason Isbell’s Southeastern. It’s the type of music that is best suited for a relaxed Sunday where you wake up slowly and enjoy the sunlight streaming in through the windows before curling up on a wraparound porch with a scone and a good book, but could be listened to almost anywhere else and Moxam’s voice would be just as appealing. Finding a song that not only inhabits the events of a scene but also the specific mood is so difficult for any show, and accomplishing exactly that while also flawlessly introducing a new character is impressive to say the least. Welcome to Orphan Black Cal, and don’t let anyone convince you to stop wearing those flannels.

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The Americans – ‘It Must Be Done’

Everything’s fine, 

In the sunshine.

But it must be done. 

Last night’s The Americans was as symbolic an episode as a top-tier drama would ever dare to produce. Everything from Elizabeth and Phillip carrying out polar opposite missions at the same time, to Nina playing both sides of the coin once again with Oleg and Stan, to Paige spelling out just how differently her parents were treating her from her brother, there was a very clear mirroring between every single plot and subplot. The pairing of the Annelise and Elizabeth plots were definitely the most obvious deployment of this particular tactic, but I was more of a fan of how Paige reacted to her parents’ refusal to allow her to go to camp.

She made some great points as to how they aren’t reacting the same way as when Henry broke into someone’s home for goodness sake, and they’re the observations any pre-teen would make thinking they are in the absolutely right. Of course in this case Paige pretty much is calling out her mother appropriately, but there isn’t anything that Elizabeth can reasonably respond with that wouldn’t blow everything to pieces. Just think: “Oh, sorry honey, I forgot to mention the reason your father and I don’t like you going to church is that we were actually raised in a strict and secular Russian society before we were sent to infiltrate America.” Yes, I think that would go over quite well. Instead, Paige is stuck being miserable in her own home (welcome to your teenage years, sweetheart) and Elizabeth and Phillip are playing the bad guys under their own roof, one more reluctant to do so than the other.

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Elsewhere, Nina continues to play Stan for information and future opportunities at subterfuge just as the rest of his life is falling apart. Basically everything having to do with Stan’s stories right now has to do with cheating, I’m sure not coincidentally. What’s more, the people around him are accomplishing everything that he could never do when fooling around behind someone’s back. His wife, always the more upfront and honest one in the marriage (again, a mirror image of the gender roles Elizabeth and Phillip inhabit) actually had the courage to tell him that she was having an affair. Nina has no guilt that she is sleeping with Oleg and Stan at the same time, yet we see his two-timing eating away at Agent Beeman to the point where he can’t see the forest for the trees.

The montage near the close of the episode was by far one of the best the show has done through its first two seasons, especially with the added benefit of an original Pete Townshend/Nathan Barr composition. “It Must Be Done”, recorded exclusively for this episode, fit in so well to the show’s 80’s tableau and on point song choices that I almost didn’t realize it was an original song. Striking just the right balance between cheesy and subdued, it was easy to overlook the fact that the lyrics could have doubled as a piece of the script, yet they weren’t so obvious as to feel heavy-handed in their purpose. Off the top of my head, there’s no one I would trust more than Townshend to write a song in 2014 that was being used on a show set in 1982 and have it sound like it was originally released in 1980 without a second thought. From the drums – low and consistent in the background – to the female vocal escalations dipping in during the chorus, the song matched up well with the spy games cutting in and out on screen.

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The entire sequence, with Annelise and Elizabeth doing similarly regretful things in pursuit of the same goal but in entirely separate manners, seemed like it was also lifted directly out of an 80’s flick too though. More than most missions the Jennings take part in this one was dark, dangerous, and filled with second thoughts both during and after. Stellar acting by both Keri Russell and Gillian Alexy both. The emotions in their eyes alone were enough to spell out exactly what was going through their minds, even before Annelise freaked out on Phillip back in their hotel room. I was almost surprised that those scenes didn’t close out the episode, leaving the immediate fallout to occur next week, mostly due to how much “It Must Be Done” seemed like a song that would accompany dramatic denouement. Instead, we got an extra-stuffed episode that wrapped things up elsewhere. I would have like to see them use Pete’s music as an episode ender similar to how the show has been using much of Peter Gabriel’s catalog, but I guess that just means that Gabriel will have to match his output and contribute some original music of his own. Can’t wait.

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