“Will You Hold My Box?”

[Contains urinal gifts and SPOILERS!!!]

June Diane Raphael as 'Julie Gristlewhite' in "Burning Love" (S2)The second season of spoof “reality” dating show Burning Love (2013) flipped the genders of the “prize” and the competitors, with June Diane Raphael taking the lead as ‘Julie Gristlewhite’, who failed to bag toxic-bachelor ‘Mark Orlando’ (Ken Marino) in the previous season and ended up dating de-closeted lesbian ‘Carly’ (Janet Varney) instead. Apparently that fling flamed out in the intervening months, after Julie realised she wasn’t actually gay, and so she returned to the mansion to be courted by a pack of male suitors (of varying eligibility/instability), in the hope of finding her “fanty-tale”* ending. It would be impossible to overstate how awesome JDR is here, delivering an absolute tour de force performance, playing a character who’s equal parts adorable, inane, insane, and irresistible… and when she locks the full-bore intensity of her lust on disinterested “bad boy” d-bag ‘Blaze’ (Ryan Hansen) it’s hilarious, terrifying, and arousing, all at the same time! Seriously, the scene where she lies in the backyard brazenly humping a cushion in broad daylight, then requests fresh underwear from a waiting production assistant… that’s going to stay in my memory a verrry long time (though the scene where she rages at one contestant for calling her puppet-show date “dumb” comes a close second as a stand-out highlight of the season).

June Diane Raphael as 'Julie Gristlewhite' in "Burning Love" (S2)Julie’s return also gave series creator/writer Erica Oyama a perfect excuse to bring back more female cast members from the previous season, to act as her occasional “advisors”. First up was Abigail Spencer as ‘Annie’, who helped Julie to moderate a “pop quiz” group date for the fellas, inadvertently stealing their attention away with her wholesome charms, and skimpy floor-cleaning outfit. Then Varney cruised by as the heart-broken Carly, who was secretly hoping she could rekindle her relationship with Julie, while supposedly helping her to decide between her final two suitors. Bless. Noureen DeWulf also had a brief cameo in the finale as ‘Titi’, who reiterated her earlier (off-screen, but related to us via Julie) warning that Blaze was seeing someone else, before revealing that she was the comely “someone” in question! Meanwhile, in a parallel subplot, Deanna Russo returned as ‘Tamara G.’, the monkey-hearted “winner” of the previous season, who had since been callously dumped by Mark via a local newspaper front-page, while he was safely out of town… though he rather bizarrely claimed the abrupt break-up was as much of a shock to him as it was to her, having apparently forgotten he wrote and arranged for the “Dear Jane” article to be published in the first place! Feh! Their acrimonious split left Mark free to hijack this season’s finale, and rescue Julie from her Blaze-less indifference with a surprise proposal… though it doesn’t look as if their impromptu “romance” is going to be especially long-lived, either…

Jessica St. Clair as ‘Polly’ and Rebecca Romijn as ‘Katie’ in "Burning Love" (S2)As for the supporting cast: Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor returned as the show’s only surviving couple for a catch-up segment… Katie Aselton played the co-founder of a “Puppet Education” business… Lindsey Kraft played ‘Rebecca’, a Jewish model subbing for Julie during a photo-shoot date with an obsessively-Semitic contestant… Rebecca Romijn, Caroline Sharp, and Jessica St. Clair played the “sister-wives” of one of the finalists, who belatedly revealed himself to be a polygamist… and Danielle Schneider played the overly-emotional sister of a super-proud single-father finalist.

Verdict: I didn’t find this season quite as funny or engaging as the previous one… possibly because I shotgunned it straight after finishing the first season, rather than pacing myself properly, and leaving a little distance between them… but as I said above, JDR was absolutely on fire in every episode (no pun intended), and it’s a damn shame that the Emmys weren’t honouring individual actors/actresses in “short-form” shows when this aired, because she would have been a total shoo-in! I’m already jonesing for more Julie… but I’m going to try to delay watching the third (and final?) season for a little while, so I can appreciate it properly…

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* Er, that’s a word Julie coins, combining “fantasy” and “fairy tale”, obviously…

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“Will You Accept My Hose?”

[Contains bagel-socks and SPOILERS!!!]

In the wake of my withdrawal from Childrens Hospital, I decided to scarf down the first season of Burning Love (2012), a spoof “reality” dating show created/written by Erica Oyama and directed by her husband, Ken Marino, who also starred as ‘Mark Orlando’ the “toxic bachelor” tasked with whittling down a bevy of beautiful women who are all competing for his attention/affection. Although the premise was inherently ridiculous (despite being based on an existing genre of television), it did mean that the show was jam-packed with awesome comedy actresses, playing hilariously exaggerated (I hope!) caricatures of the contestants who willingly partake in this sort of trial-by-flirtiness:

Morgan Walsh as 'Vivian', Beth Dover as 'Lexie', Noureen DeWulf as 'Titi', Deanna Russo as 'Tamara G.', Natasha Leggero as 'Haley', Malin Åkerman as 'Willow', and Kristen Bell as 'Mandy' in "Burning Love" (S1)Malin Åkerman played ‘Willow’, a homeless woman who was more interested in having a roof over her head and access to free food, than in the contest itself… Jennifer Aniston played ‘Dana’, an optimist who naively chose to wear a baggy panda bear costume to conceal her appearance, in the hope that Mark would appreciate her personality before seeing her outer beauty (she was rejected in the first round, sight unseen, of course)… Kristen Bell played ‘Mandy’, a devout Christian who compromised her beliefs to perform a killer stand-up routine, but still got rejected (poor thing)… Noureen DeWulf played ‘Titi’ (“Teety”), a spoiled “princess” whose name was repeatedly mispronounced by Mark*… Beth Dover played ‘Lexie’, an intense stalker-type who was dangerously obsessed with Mark, and got all the best lines in the first three episodes, before being eliminated (boo!)… Carla Gallo played ‘Tamara P.’, a blind photographer who almost made it through to the second round simply because she had the same name as one of the other contestants, and Mark got them confused (so crushing to see her reaction when he corrected his mistake and dashed her hopes!)… Natasha Leggero played ‘Haley’, a promiscuous exhibitionist who was constantly walking around naked (but pixelated) from the waist down, and actually had sex with some random dude during her one-on-one “date” with Mark, behind his back (literally), but in full view of everyone else in the bar (ew!)…

June Diane Raphael as 'Julie', Morgan Walsh as 'Vivian', Janet Varney as 'Carly', Beth Dover as 'Lexie', Noureen DeWulf as 'Titi', Natasha Leggero as 'Haley', Deanna Russo as 'Tamara G.', and Malin Åkerman as 'Willow' in "Burning Love" (S1)Erin Muroski played ‘Destiny’, a desperate un-trained dancer, who was eliminated toot-sweet… Oyama herself played ‘Shera’, a barely-seen contestant who got bounced off the property within seconds of her arrival, after loudly vomiting onto the pavement beside the parked limo… June Diane Raphael played ‘Julie Gristlewhite’, an otherwise very attractive prospect who was still rebounding from a previous relationship, and kept nervously forgetting her prepared “bon mots”… Deanna Russo as ‘Tamara G.’, a woman with a monkey heart, who nearly died during a workout date with Mark (rather romantically/tragically reasoning that Love is more important than Life!)… Helen Slayton-Hughes played ‘Agnes’, a half-deaf octogenarian who Mark kept referring to as a “cougar”, but eventually rejected for being too old (at which point she was bussed back to her nursing home)… Abigail Spencer played ‘Annie’, the seemingly “perfect” contestant who Mark casually treated like crap throughout the process… Janet Varney played ‘Carly’, a closeted lesbian who grew increasingly (and hilariously) belligerent and bitter the longer she was kept on the show… and Morgan Walsh played ‘Vivian’, a heavily pregnant mother-to-be who tried to hide her baby bump behind various household objects, in the classic sitcom stylee. Oh, and Ken Jeong played ‘Ballerina’, the “exotic” contestant with a fairly obvious “secret”…

Natasha Leggero as 'Haley' in "Burning Love" (S1)There were also cameos by Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor as the “winners” of the previous season… Mo Gaffney as Carly’s pushy mother… Kerri Kenney-Silver as Mark’s besotted co-worker… and Zandy Hartig as the ‘Owner of a Burning House’ that Mark resolutely fails to assist, despite supposedly being a professional fire-fighter. Tch!

Verdict: Although I’ve never seen the “serious” shows that were being parodied here, I found this spoof absurdly funny, and was impressed by how clearly delineated the characters were, given the brevity of the episodes and the size of the ensemble. Even though it meant seeing my faves getting eliminated from the cast as the weeks went by, I loved how the “competition” aspect of the story played out, and thought the twisty ending(s) made for an epic finale. Top marks all around!

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* Not that anyone asked, but if I’d been in Mark’s shoes, I would have proposed to Titi by the end of the first night, and just sent everyone else home! Besides being super-gorgeous, she also seemed a lot saner and funner than most of the other contestants… her only real flaw was that she was quite bitchy about her rivals, but I like to tell myself that she was just playing up to the cameras, and would be much nicer in person. Her parents seemed very sweet, so… it’s possible she’d take after them more as she got older, right…?

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The Healing Power Of Laughter/Medicine

Over the past couple months I’ve been working my way through all seven seasons of Childrens Hospital (2008-2016), which began as a short-form web-series spoofing serious medical dramas, before evolving into an Emmy-award-winning TV show (via Adult Swim) and setting its absurdist sights on a wider range of genres. The style and format of each episode could vary quite wildly, with the characters and their relationships morphing to suit whatever the revolving writers felt like doing with/to them that week, but the main cast remained largely unchanged, throughout the years…

Erinn Hayes as ‘Dr Lola Spratt’ in “Childrens Hospital”Lake Bell played ‘Catholomule “Cat” Black’, a bi-curious (and occasionally nude) doctor, whose navel-gazing narration was a highlight of the first season, along with her deeply disturbing lust for ‘Little Nicky’ (Nick Kroll), a six-year-old boy with an advanced ageing disease that made him appear outwardly adult. When she (seemingly) died giving birth to Nicky’s child, she was replaced in the second season (but not my heart) by ‘Dr Valerie Flame’, played by Malin Åkerman… though Cat later returned to work and slack-off alongside her successor. Meanwhile, Megan Mullally played ‘Chief’, the handicapable head of staff, who bravely soldiered-on despite an array of infirmities, and the suggestion that she was simply a figment of someone else’s insanity. Despite the presence of these more familiar names/faces, my pick for the show’s MVP would have to be Erinn Hayes, who played ‘Lola Spratt’, a doctor who also happened to be a fully-qualified attorney, ventriloquist, ace impressionist, and secret government agent, with super-powerful puppy-eyes! Remarkably, Hayes managed to remain consistently charming, funny, and natural, no matter what ridiculousness she was asked to deliver, or how many tonal and stylistic shifts she had to navigate… and frankly her performance here is nothing short of Herculean, comedy-wise! I can’t say I was familiar with her before watching this show, but she’s leapt way up my watch-list now… and it boggles my mind that she hasn’t landed her own star-vehicle already, though there is some consolation in the fact that she’s been nominated for an Emmy this year (Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series)!

Beth Dover as ‘Nurse Beth’ in “Childrens Hospital” (ep #6.4)The doctors were ably assisted by two dutiful nurses, ‘Dori’ (played by Zandy Hartig) and ‘Beth’ (played by Beth Dover)… and if I absolutely had to pick a fave episode at scalpel-point, it would be #6.4, which was presented as the work of a competition winner (‘Carol Torton’, played by Liz Cackowski), who had never written for television before, but was an avid “fan fiction” author, and had chosen to explore Nurse Beth’s status as an “outsider” in love with two sparring doctors, who were also a secret vampire and  werewolf respectively. Besides giving the very funny Dover more screen-time (which is always appreciated), I’ve always been a sucker for deliberately bad writing… though obviously as an aspiring author myself, there’s a certain amount of self-recrimination mixed in with the laughter!

That episode was also one of a select handful that stepped back from the mutable “reality” of the eponymous hospital to provide a (fictional) glimpse behind-the-scenes of the show… although director/co-star David Wain always appeared as “himself”, the rest of the cast took on secondary alter-egos, to portray the eccentric actors who supposedly appeared in the long-running, top-rated medical drama: Bell played Lake Bell as ‘Dixie Peters’ in “Childrens Hospital” (ep #6.7)‘Dixie Peters’, a pretentious thesp who favours goth-y/glam-rock make-up and outfits (hotcha!)… Åkerman played ‘Ingrid Hagerstown’, a Swedish actress who speaks no English, and learns all of her lines phonetically (Fun fact: Åkerman was actually born in Sweden, but her family moved to Canada when she was two years-old)… Mullally played ‘Lady Jane Bentick-Smith’, a theatrically-trained English toff, who occasionally lapses into faux-”British”-nonsense-slang… and Hayes played ‘Lynn Williams’, a unibrowed narcissist, who faked an alcohol-abuse problem in order to attract tabloid press attention. Tch!

Over the course of its 86 episodes, the series also attracted an all-star roster of guest-stars, including: Eva Longoria (ep #1.10), Eva Amurri (ep #2.3), Kerri Kenney-Silver (ep #2.4, 5.12), Laura Marano (ep #2.4/7), Abigail Spencer (ep #2.6, 4.3/9), Lizzy Caplan (ep #2.10, 3.13), Rachael Harris (ep #2.11), Lisa Edelstein (ep #3.1), Sarah Silverman* (ep #3.2), Alicia Silverstone (ep #3.10), Michaela Watkins (ep #4.6), Kathryn Hahn (ep #4.12), Julie Bowen (ep #6.2), Constance Wu (ep #6.7), Mimi Kennedy (ep #6.13), Rachel Blanchard (ep #6.14), JoBeth Williams (ep #7.6), Valerie Harper (ep #7.9), Molly Shannon (ep #7.10), and Shirley Jones (ep #7.11). Phew!

Lisa Edelstein as ‘herself’ in “Childrens Hospital” (ep #3.1)Verdict: Although individual episodes could be a little hit-and-miss, depending on the conceit and style of comedy employed by the disparate writers from week to week, and the inconsistent characterisations made it hard to form any real attachment to their joke-dispensing-puppets, the performances were always very watchable, and overall there were more than enough hilarious diamonds-in-the-rough to make for a very welcome comedy chaser!

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* I can’t really mention Big S in a hospital-related context without also touching on her recent and very real life-threatening medical emergency, after a suspected sore throat turned out to be “a freak case of epiglottitis”… i.e., an inflammation of the flap of cartilage at the root of the tongue, which could theoretically cover the windpipe completely, cutting off the air supply and causing death within minutes. Eep! Thankfully she was spared that fate by the good folks at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles), and is now on the mend again… so best wishes to her, and her friends/family.

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Galore-ious?

Ellie Kendrick as ‘Catriona Macroon’ in “Whisky Galore!” (2016)Shame on me! I was so busy working on my scripts last month, I overlooked the world premiere of Ellie Kendrick‘s latest big-screen outing, Whisky Galore!, which closed the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 26th. It’s another period piece for her, set during the Second World War, though much lighter in tone and subject matter than her previous trip to that era, despite also being based on a true story (involving Scottish islanders trying to “salvage” cases of whisky from a stranded container ship, under the nose of the authorities). I haven’t read the original novel, or seen the previous Ealing adaptation, so I wasn’t sure how prominent her character would be, but there are plenty shots of her making mischief in the official trailer, so that’s a pretty good sign!

Ellie Kendrick as ‘Catriona Macroon’ in “Whisky Galore!” (2016)In anticipation of her appearance at the festival, The Sunday Herald ran a very interesting interview with the actress, in which she discussed (among other things) her family’s personal connection to the 1949 version of Whiskey Galore!, her newfound taste for the eponymous “water of life”, as well as her concerns that the acting profession is in danger of becoming too elitist. She also took the opportunity to correct a confusing fib that the internet has spread regarding her birthday. The interview took place on the 6th of June, which sites such as IMDb insist is when she was born… but according to the actress: “You know what? The internet lies. It’s actually my birthday on Wednesday [June 8th]. I think it says my birthday is June 6 because I played Anne Frank in a BBC series and her birthday is June 6 and somewhere that got mixed up. Weird. I often get friends saying ‘happy birthday’ on the sixth.” Unfortunately, she’s mistaken about Frank’s birthday, as all the official sources (such as The Anne Frank Trust UK) agree that she was born on June 12th… the date that this interview was published, ironically (?). I’m actually quite disappointed in Ellie for getting that wrong… how dare she be human/fallible!

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Wooden Horses, Ahoy! (Pt. 2)

[The second part of my lengthy rant about the sixth season of Game of Thrones. Contains a well-held door and SPOILERS!!!]

Of course, with so many plot-threads to service, the show couldn’t spend as much time with ‘Meera’ (Ellie Kendrick) as I might have liked*, but she did participate in a couple sequences which should live long in the memory of GoT fans. In ep #6.5 she successfully snuffed a White Walker (with a dragon-glass spear), making her only the third character to do so, so far… and the first of the female gender! Though they’d wisely decided to start wearing armour since their run-in with ‘Jon Snow’ (Kit Harington) at Hardhome, Meera was an experienced huntress, and had the good sense to aim for its exposed neck, which she struck with expert precision… so major snaps to her for that!

Ellie Kendrick as ‘Meera Reed’ in “Game of Thrones” (S6)Sadly there were plenty more Walkers where that one came from, and so our heroine found herself in the unenviable position of trying to rouse ‘Bran Stark’ (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who was lost in a flashback vision, in the hope that he could warg ‘Hodor’ (Kristian Nairn) into action against the undead invaders… resulting in a decade-spanning snafu that melted the selfless servant’s brain in the past, imprinting it with his habitual catchphrase (and subsequent nickname), which was revealed to be a corruption of Meera’s insistent cries for him to “Hold the door!” that was keeping the swarm of snow-zombies contained. It was a truly heart-breaking scene, that’s still making me a little teary as I type this description, and retroactively reveals just how noble poor Hodor was, as he’s been working tirelessly to protect his young master all this while, despite the devastating toll it would take (and had taken) on his life. Bless. He also (most likely) died saving Meera’s life, and ensuring that Ellie would be back again next season, which makes him a saint in my book!

The next time we caught up with his fleeing wards, Meera had exhausted herself dragging Bran’s unconscious body through the woods, and was looking like a goner as the Wights closed in around them… until the boy’s undead uncle ‘Benjen’ (Joseph Mawle) rode to the rescue with a hella-cool flaming flail! Hurrah! Personally, I still don’t understand how Meera and Bran got over (under?) The Ice Wall in the first place, but now it looks as if they’re heading back towards Winterfell, so that the super-powered Stark clan can re-assemble and prepare for the wars to come… I just hope Meera has time to enjoy a nice egg-and-bacon sarnie before going into battle again. She’s definitely earned it!

Lena Headey as Queen 'Cersei Lannister' in “Game of Thrones” (S6)In sunnier climes down south, ‘Cersei’ (Lena Headey) once again demonstrated that her insufferable smugness is in direct proportion to the shitness of her strategies, as she opted to press the (metaphorical) Big Green Button and raze the Great Sept of Baelor with wildfire, rather than face another trial at the hands of the jumped-up ‘High Sparrow’ (Jonathan Pryce). Sadly, the blast also took out master-manipulator (and captive Queen) ‘Margaery’ (Natalie Dormer) and her broken brother ‘Ser Loras’ (Finn Jones), along with numerous innocent bystanders, and not-so-innocent zealots. Having been confined to his quarters, where he watched the devastation from a safe distance, King ‘Tommen’ (Dean-Charles Chapman) was so shocked by what his mother had done, he leapt from the window to his death. Harsh. Despite his untimely demise being prophesied by a fortune-teller back in the day, it’s worth noting that his suicide could possibly have been prevented if Cersei had bothered to explain herself beforehand, or comfort her son in the aftermath, rather than ogle the explosion from her own window, and then saunter down to the dungeons to mock and marinade ‘Septa Unella’ (Hannah Waddingham), before siccing the monstrous ‘Ser Gregor’ (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) on her. Feh! Of course, the insanely short-sighted Cersei still believes that she has “won”, as she settles her unworthy arse on The Iron Throne… but at this point she’s “Queen” of precisely sod all, with no children to marry off, no money in the bank, few-if-any loyal allies outside the capital, and a slew of wrathful rivals slowly surrounding her, with much stronger armies/navies, and working brains in their heads. D’OH!!!

Bella Ramsey as ‘Lady Lyanna Mormont’ in “Game of Thrones” (S6)Although I’m sad to see Margaery/Dormer depart (unlike some characters, her death was pretty unambiguous here!), this season also saw the scene-stealing debut of a new favourite: ‘Lady Lyanna Mormont’ (Bella Ramsey), a bold-beyond-her-years tyke who managed to shame a room full of hardened male war-veterans into renewing their vows to fight under the Stark banner, by battering them with her blunt speech and steely will. She’s an absolutely awesome character, and Ramsey gave a remarkably assured performance in her two stand-out scenes here… so I was surprised to discover that this was the actress’s first ever on-screen appearance! There’s an interesting interview with her over on the Making Game of Thrones website… and concerned parents will be relieved to know that she was only shown a few select snippets from previous seasons, to help her prepare for the role. Phew! Aside from that, I also thought Samantha Spiro did a lovely job as Samwell’s sweet and sympathetic mother, ‘Lady Melessa Tarly’… but now that her son has high-tailed it from the family home again, I assume that’s the last we’ll be seeing of her…?

As for my fave male characters, I was very happy to see that “The Hound” (Rory McCann) had managed to heal-up and restore his strength since Arya left him for dead back in the Season Four finale… and I admired his candour when it came to admitting that he’d been beaten by “girls”. Despite evidence of a softer heart beating beneath his gruff exterior, it remains to be seen if he’ll chose to become a (cynical/snarky) force for good now that he’s re-friended the “Brotherhood Without Banners”, or simply go back to fighting for his own selfish survival again. I know there are still plenty fans hoping to see him face-off against his sadistic brother Gregor, in what they’ve dubbed the “CleganeBowl” tourney… but I wouldn’t be in any hurry to go mano-a-mano with “The Mountain”, if I were him! Meanwhile, ‘Tyrion’ (Peter Dinklage) had a relatively low-key season, with several slightly clumsy “comedy” scenes, but I did love his intrepid expedition into the dark dungeon to free Dany’s safely-shackled dragons from their miserable captivity. A potentially deadly gamble on his part, but one that paid hefty dividends for Meereen and viewers alike!

Natalie Dormer as 'Margaery Tyrell' in “Game of Thrones” (S6)Verdict: Overall, I think the show has lost some of its unsettling ambiguity and edge now that it’s burned though all of the existing books and started racing on ahead of its creator… a lot of the “baddies” seem to be getting their comeuppance, while the disparate “goodies” seem to be banding together and surviving… though it’s always possible a similar sea-change will occur in the novels, once G.R.R.M. starts steering his epic story towards a conclusion. Either way, I still say it’s the best drama series on television, and light-years ahead of its supposed competition in the Historical/Fantasy category… the performances were top-notch all around, and the battle scenes were truly awe-inspiring, even if some of the dialogue and plotting left a little more to be desired…

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* Which would be an infinite amount of time, obviously.

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Wooden Horses, Ahoy! (Pt. 1)

[Contains hastily spilt rum and SPOILERS!!!]

The sixth season of Game of Thrones ended with a bumper-length finale, which went some way to making up for the disappointingly-short premiere… and coincidentally (?), both of these bookending episodes contained meh-worthy scenes set in the courtyard kingdom of Dorne, which wasted the potentially-awesome-but-desperately-underserved “Sand Snakes”, so boo to that! I wish the writers would either give them something properly badass to do, or just cut them from the series completely… because the way they were (mis)treated this year was just embarrassing, frankly. As for my other fave female characters:

Gwendoline Christie as 'Brienne of Tarth' in "Game of Thrones " (S6)After ‘Brienne’ (Gwendoline Christie) had sworn her oath of loyalty to ‘Sansa’ (Sophie Turner), the two of them made their way up to Castle Black for a touching reunion with the resurrected ‘Jon Snow’ (Kit Harington), and some unrequited flirtation from ‘Tormund’ (Kristofer Hivju). It was very gratifying to see Brienne giving ‘Melisandre’ (Carice van Houten) grief over her shadow-monster shenanigans… though sadly our heroine was AWOL when ‘Ser Davos’ (Liam Cunningham) discovered the tragic truth about Shireen’s sacrifice, and didn’t get to argue in favour of dishing out a little summary justice there-and-then… though now the “Red Woman” has been banished to the south, it’s always possible the two of them will cross paths again in the next season…? Brienne’s ill-fated quest to recruit the famed ‘Ser Brynden’ (aka “Blackfish”) (Clive Russell) and his banner-men to the Stark cause was a bit of a busted flush, but still worth it for the scene where she successfully parlays with ‘Ser Jaime’ (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and then reluctantly departs after a pregnant pause, looking like she desperately wants to shove her tongue down his golden throat. Sadly, their unspoken attraction is unlikely to bear fruit, and the best they can hope for these days is a friendly wave across opposing battlements. Sigh…

Gemma Whelan as 'Yara Greyjoy' in "Game of Thrones " (S6)Meanwhile, a more promising romance was budding between ‘Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) and ‘Yara’ (Gemma Whelan)… or is that just pervy/wishful thinking on my part? After losing the Iron Islands to their kinslaying uncle ‘Euron Greyjoy’ (Pilou Asbæk), the newly united Yara and ‘Theon’ (Alfie Allen) stole the bestest ships they could find, and set sail for Mereen, hoping to broker an alliance with our blessed “Mother of Dragons”… who seemed suitably impressed with the younger Greyjoys’ affirmative agenda, sibling solidarity, and plain-speaking ways… even if she wasn’t quite so keen on their homeland’s traditional attachment to raidin’, reavin’, and rapin’. Thankfully the two women were able to come to terms, after bonding over their terrible families (along with ‘Tyrion’ (Peter Dinklage)), mutual hatred of throne-hogging pigs, and burning desire to leave the world in a better state than it was when they came into it. Hurrah! Besides being a great gang-getting-together moment, I really loved seeing Whelan sharing a set with (and arguably stealing a scene from) two of the show’s biggest stars, so snaps to her for that! Fun fact: Apparently in the books Yara (aka “Asha”) is rampantly heterosexual, while Dany is a little more bi-curious… whereas Yara’s interest in the “fairer sex” was firmly established here via her lusty groping/motorboating of a naked prostitute-lady during her fleet’s pit-stop in Volantis. Nice to see her loosening up a little… though there might not be time for much fun and frivolity, now that the invasion is underway…

As for Dany’s Dothraki detour… well, seeing her torch the Great Khals’ council hut (with all of them still in it), and emerge from the flames to declare herself supreme ruler was kinda cool, but it did feel like a slight retread of the season one finale, and couldn’t hold a candle to the later scenes of her flying her dragons out over Slaver’s Bay to confront the enemy navy. I could’ve happily watched them set fire to ships in the harbour all day… but then she wouldn’t have had any left for her own supporters to sail in, would she? Shame.

Maisie Williams as 'Arya Stark' in "Game of Thrones " (S6)Not quite as epic, but equally engaging, was the highly anticipated showdown between erstwhile assassin-in-training ‘Arya’ (Maisie Williams) and her sadistic sparring-partner ‘The Waif’ (Faye Marsay). After several savage beat-downs with bo-staffs and bare-fists, Arya was finally forgiven, and her sight restored, only for her to go and botch yet another “hit” by knocking a poisoned glass out of her intended target’s hand, while warning the unsuspecting victim that someone wanted her dead! Which was probably the “right” thing to do, morally speaking, but it was still a rather frustrating choice on her part, since it inevitably brought the wrath of The Many-Faced God down on her once again, via our anti-heroine’s eager nemesis. To The Waif’s credit, she did follow her orders and attempt to make Arya’s death as quick and painless as possible, without any mocking words or evil cackles… at least on the first attempt… but Arya simply refused to lie down and die, leading to a protracted brawl/chase through the city’s marketplace, and lots of painful leaping/falling from high places, until Arya was able to lure her pursuer into a pitch-black nook and bust out her fancy new blind-fighting skills, to cut the belligerent bully down to size. Yay?*

Faye Marsay as 'The Waif ' in "Game of Thrones " (S6)After adding The Waif’s freshly culled visage to the big scary chamber of face-masks, Arya held ‘Jaqen’ (Tom Wlaschiha) at Needle-point and defiantly re-affirmed her identity as a Stark of Winterfell, before announcing that she was “going home”. Hurrah! I assumed she’d get waylaid a couple times along the way (as characters in this show often do), but apparently she made it back to Westeros in time for the finale, to serve up some grisly pies to ‘Walder Frey’ (David Bradley), along with his just deserts… which was quite satisfying in its way, but also suggested that Arya now possesses the ability to fashion her own magickal identity-shifting masks…? Or was the servant-girl disguise simply a parting gift from her enigmatic mentor? Hmmm…

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* Of course I’m glad that Arya survived her misadventures in Braavos, but I can’t help mourning Marsay’s exit from the series, and wishing that Love, Nina had started airing a couple weeks later (rather than running concurrently), so I could keep enjoying her slightly off-kilter screen-presence for a little while longer. Ah well…

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“Diamonds!” “Incest!”

Natasha Leggero as 'Lillian Schmemmerhorn-Fish' and Riki Lindhome as 'Beatrice Downsy' in "Another Period” (S2)Comedy Central’s satirical-spoof-historical-“reality”-show Another Period returned for a well-deserved second season this week, picking up the various soapy plot threads left dangling at the end of last year’s finale, and re-introducing us to the monstrously self-absorbed Bellacourt family, and their bizarrely self-abasing staff.

Narcissistic sisters ‘Lillian’ (Natasha Leggero) and ‘Beatrice’ (Riki Lindhome) were still exiled from the family estate, attempting to eke out their fading fifteen minutes of tabloid infamy with the help of savvy self-promoter* Harriet Tubman (Bebe Drake)… while their father’s heavily pregnant mistress-turned-maid ‘Celine’ (aka “Chair”) (Christina Hendricks) was comatose and confined to bed after being shoved down a staircase by her mentally-unstable nemesis ‘Blanche’ (Beth Dover). Drama! New additions to the cast included Lauren Flans, who is now the third actress to take on the role of elder Bellacourt sister ‘Hortense’ (!), and Alice Hunter, who plays ‘Flobelle’, a recently recruited maid whose extensive knowledge of vintage dress designs and unquestioning veneration of her “social betters” immediately endears her to head butler ‘Peepers’ (Michael Ian Black)… though I assume she’ll have a few shocking secrets to reveal before the season is out (my money’s on her being another illegitimate offspring of the Commodore’s!)

Anyhoo, this was a very funny refresher that’s more than whetted my appetite for the mayhem and madness that’s sure to follow in the subsequent episodes (and several more seasons to come, I hope!). Incidentally, this premiere was written by Jen Statsky, who’s also worked on Lady Dynamite and Broad City, two sitcoms that I really enjoy but can’t quite wrap my head around… or at least, not enough to be able to bash out a coherent blog post about either of them, as yet…

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* To clarify, that’s how she was portrayed in this wilfully irreverent comedy, not how I’d describe the actual historical figure. No offense intended!

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