So You Think You Can Resist So You Think You Can Dance?

I know I just promised a slew of current movie reviews, but after finishing last week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance, I’m feeling compelled to sidestep (no pun intended) those briefly for a shout-out to a summer show you should be watching.  Before I continue, I should note that, aside from a 3-4 year devotion to Survivor back when reality TV first broke onto the scene, I am NOT a big reality TV fan.  I tend to gravitate towards more scripted programming when it comes to TV.  However, upon being introduced to this show a few years back, I was instantly hooked and haven’t missed an episode since!  If you’re not already watching it, this is a great time to start, as the “good stuff” is just getting underway and you’ll have managed to miss the sometimes overly drawn out and tedious (though still addicting) audition episodes, during which the Top 20 finalists (10 girls and 10 guys) are whittled down from the multitudes across the country who audition for the show (which is shot here in Los Angeles).  So the actual competition has only just begun.  If you have any appreciation whatsoever for dance ~ of any kind! ~ I defy you not to get hooked on this show!

The format is similar to most talent competition-based reality series:  Candidates are chosen by a panel of judges after a series of auditions and proceed to perform week to week. America has a chance to weigh in by voting for their favorites and then one (or two) contestants are eliminated each week until we’re left with the finalists.  It is essentially

Judge Mary Murphy & Producer/Judge Nigel Lythgoe

American Idol for dance (which makes sense as Idol is also produced by So You Think You Can Dance standing judge and producer Nigel Lythgoe).  Only for whatever reason, I enjoy (and respect) this show far more than I ever have Idol.  (And I grew up both singing and dancing, so it’s not a matter of appreciating one form of talent over the other.)  The show is for the most part clean, tight and moves along at a nice clip, making it’s two-hour running time fly by.  This is the first year they’ve eliminated a separate results show, which should tighten up the show even more, as well as free up another hour in the week.

The young dancers (no one over the ripe old age of 30 is eligible) are extraordinarily talented.  One gets the sense that they are there not to become famous by being on TV, but rather because they genuinely love ~ and live ~ to dance.  You can see and feel their passion for the art.  It comes through in their performances, very often moving me to tears or injecting me with a jolt of energy, causing my jaw to drop at their astonishing abilities and an inspiring reminder of the beauty and power of movement as artistic expression. Continue reading

Breaking Bad, Season 2 ~ Darker Days

If you read my Breaking Bad Season 1 review, you know how much I loved it.  In its second season, the AMC series’ episodes increase from 7 to 13 (the 2007-2008 Writer’s strike cut the first season short), meaning twice as many episodes for us fans to enjoy, which is a very good thing.  It also means twice as many episodes to produce, which makes it twice as challenging to come up with consistently spectacular episodes.  However, given that task, an especially tall order after such a phenomenal first season, creator and head writer Vince Gilligan and Company do a pretty damn impressive job of keeping the momentum and excellence of Season 1 going strong.

Now while I was still very much engrossed in the show over Season 2, without giving too much away (in case there is anyone else out there as behind as I am in this series), from the very start of the season, I had a much harder time maintaining the empathy I felt for Walt in Season 1.  His web of lies is so pervasive, it becomes almost tedious.  Even Jesse, in perfect Jesse form, says to him at one point “Yo, lie much?”  Furthermore, some of Walt’s choices become increasingly difficult to understand and therefore (morally) support.  I realize that as Walt gets ever more embroiled in his new “life of crime”, it is inevitable that the stakes grow and the deceits must increase in kind.  However, the argument that Walt is doing it all for the good of his family begins to lose steam when it is his very family who starts to suffer the consequences of his dishonesty and erratic behavior.  His home life seems to be crumbling around him, yet he carries on, either unaware of its deterioration (most notably his increasingly strained marriage) or so intoxicated by his newly-acquired “power” and earning acumen that he becomes blind to it.  Walt’s actions and behaviors start to spiral out of control to the point of seeming disrepair.  That said, while some of the changes in Walt’s character are disheartening (especially when the vicious, evil side of him begins to rear its ugly and frightening head), I also fully acknowledge that it is all in deference to the role of Walter White, who has to be one of the most complex, multi-layered characters in the history of television…and which Bryan Cranston continues to bat out of the park (as evidenced by his second consecutive Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama).

In contrast, Jesse (Walt’s “partner in crime”) becomes ever more appealing and sympathetic.  Aaron Paul seems to be the superstar of Season 2 ~ and is certainly given loads of fabulously rich material with which to shine, spanning from his usual comedic moments (numerous doozies of which exist in Season 2) to some incredibly meaty, emotionally intense storylines that are wrenching and raw and truly display the full range of his enormous talent.  (Incidentally, Paul received his first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama for his work here.)  Season 2 becomes as much Jesse’s story as it is Walt’s.  And the ever-shifting dynamics of their relationship make for some of the funniest AND most moving scenes of the season.  As wildly different as their characters are from one another, they begin to develop a genuine and caring bond with one another.  In fact, I found myself far more interested and invested in the father-son-like relationship that begins to form between them than I was in the relationship between Walt and his biological son.  It’s fascinating to watch Walt and Jesse’s interactions and what each brings out in the other.  I continue to love the scenes between them more than any others.  One of my favorite episodes of the season, “4 Days Out”, is almost entirely comprised of Walt & Jesse alone together.  It is exceptional both in its comedic and its dramatic elements.  Furthermore, the timing of the episode is perfect, in that just as I was struggling ever more with Walt’s choices and beginning to question whether the series was going too far, the show redeems itself by addressing precisely what I’d been thinking and feeling though Walt (finally) expressing regrets (“I deserve this…I had it coming”), even acknowledging that he can no longer keep up with his own lies.  In turn, Jesse reminds him that everything he’s done, he’s done for his family.  It is an amazing – and necessary – episode with a stunningly effective ending that packs a powerful (and literal) punch. Continue reading

Breaking Bad (Season 1) ~ Breaking Boundaries…Brilliantly

Breaking Bad - Season 1

Creator/Exec. Producer: Vince Gilligan

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt

I was just beginning a Masters Degree program when this AMC series debuted back in 2008, and thus was (regrettably) too deeply buried in my studies to have the time to be watching much of anything.  Hence my being so unforgivably behind in starting this phenomenal series.  I’d heard and read a lot of positive feedback about it, but wasn’t sure whether I could stomach the subject matter…for those of you who don’t already know, Bryan Breaking Bad - Walter WhiteCranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who learns he has inoperable, terminal lung cancer and proceeds (though a series of events) to put his chemistry skills and knowledge to use for cooking crystal meth in order to make the money necessary to leave ample support for his family.  A weighty (and some might argue, farfetched) scenario, to be sure (echos of the Showtime series Weeds notwithstanding, which won me over in its first few seasons), so it is utterly astonishing to see how Breaking Bad - Walter Whitebrilliantly Vince Gilligan (the series’ creator and head writer) and company make such a premise work.  It is somehow entirely believable and without a doubt, one of the most addictive (no pun intended) television shows I have ever seen.  Continue reading