I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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BURN NOTICE -- "Desperate Measures" -- Pictured: Jeffrery Donovan as Michael Westen -- (Photo by Glenn Watson/USA It's been a while since Burn Notice ended its run at seven seasons and I'm still digesting what happened. Be warned though, I'm going to go into spoiler-heavy details, so if you haven't seen the episode, stop now, watch it and then come back. I'll be here. I'm serious. Shoo. OK. You good now? I'll continue.
I disliked how this season had gone in terms of plot, what with them straying away from the formula of Michael Westen and his crew helping out people in trouble. Heck, they had even stopped doing the captions like "Steve Austin... The Bad Guy." Instead, they had Westen go undercover and into a very deep, dark place.
The show attempted to redeem itself very quickly in this episode, with Westen snapping back to his normal self very quickly and reuniting with his crew, Fiona Glenanne, Sam Axe and Jesse Porter and got them figuring out how to extricate themselves from the mess they were in: both the CIA and a terrorist organization after them.
There were some emotional moments. The most touching part was the goodbye call between Westen and his mother, Maddie, who was about to sacrifice herself to give him a chance against his nemesis, James Kendrick, the terrorist leader. It was a redemption of sorts for Maddie, who had let both Westen and his brother, Nate, be abused by their father growing up, Despite my dislike of how the season had gone, I found my living room to be very dusty, despite my having vacuumed earlier. Sharon Gless, Jeffrey Donovan and Coby Bell all handled those scenes really well.
The writers also made callbacks to some of the more famous lines from the show, with Bruce Campbell's Axe saying his "spies are a bunch of b----y girls" and Fiona sort of reprising his opening line: "My name is Michael Westen. I used to be a spy" which is total fan service, but it worked.
Did it redeem itself? For a little bit towards the end, it looked like the nuclear option had been chosen, but Westen and Glenanne avoided death and wound up together in a new place to raise Westen's nephew. The groundwork for a possible spin-off with Axe and Porter was also laid (do it, USA Network. do it).
It was a definitive end and not a happy one for everyone, but it wasn't one that Matt Nix, the show's creator should be ashamed of.
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January is a debaucherous month at Showtime. After all, it's when the network’s trio of serially addicted men — Frank (William H. Macy) on Shameless, Marty (Don Cheadle) on House of Lies, and Hank (David Duchovny) on Californication — all return to the pay-network to get back to the business of being bad. So it's quite fitting that Showtime is labeling Jan. 13, the date that all three shows begin their new seasons, “Sinful Sunday."
But while we’ve got a serial drinker in Frank, a career liar in Marty, and a compulsive fornicator in Hank, the characters are hardly just sinners. Fans of the three series would agree with President of Entertainment at Showtime, David Nevins, who notes Frank, Marty, and Hank are far more layered than your average bad boys. “We try to make sure that all of our characters have a real complexity to them, and that goes for both men and women,” he says.
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So while Macy, Cheadle, and Duchovny's roles are characters that could likely only exist on a network like Showtime, Sunday's well-rounded trio impossible to pigeonhole. “I think [Macy and Cheadle] are making full human beings,” Duchovny says. “Across the board, [these characters are] human.” That's likely what makes House of Lies the top performing comedy on Showtime, according to Nevins. It's also probably what brings fans of Hank Moody back season in and season out and keeps Shameless fans — a notoriously obsessive set — as rabid as ever for more Gallagher family hijinks. Of course, each of the series' leading men have their own ideas about what keeps the fans coming back for more.
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Rascal: Shameless's Frank Gallagher
As the patriarch of Shameless’ Gallagher family, Frank isn’t exactly the poster child for father of the year. The perpetually drunk (or, at the very least, tipsy) South Side Chicago native is a man only his family (and Macy... and Shamelessfans everywhere) could love. Macy gets that, and it’s what makes his job so challenging. “This is my take on Frank,” he says. “He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s got a wicked sense of humor. He sees the irony of life and so he holds things somewhat lightly, but he’s very hard-working, entrepreneurial, and dogged. He never gives up.”
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Of course, that’s not exactly what most people would say about Frank, who ended last season asleep in the Chicago snow after punching his son Ian (Cameron Monaghan) over a case of Old Style beer. “I like the guy. [Laughs] But at the same time, he’s deplorable,” says Macy. “If I do my job right [the audience] will have enough forgiveness in them and the next week they’ll tune in again.”
So the audience may continue to come back for more, but what about the Gallaghers themselves? At the end of Season 2, they seemed to have had it with Frank. But all is not lost — Fiona (Emmy Rossum) and Co. may be a wild bunch, but when it comes down to it, they’re family. “I happen to know the family is not done with Frank, nor will they ever be done with Frank,” Macy says. “As perplexing as it is, even to me, there’s a part of it I find very moving. We say blood is thicker than water and that family trumps all, but the Gallagher family is living proof of that."
And heading into Season 3, Frank faces a few additional challenges beyond his own addictions. “At the end of this next season, he’s got some health issues … he bears his health problems stoically,” Macy says.
So it seems, even Frank can figure it out when the straights become dire. Macy’s not hoping Frank gets it allfigured out though. “I’ve got the role of a lifetime," he says. "At first [my scenes] are uncomfortable and icky, but if I just [bring] up [my] courage and throw [myself] into the scene as Frank would do, oh boy, I feel like the king of the world."
NEXT: Don Cheadle and David Duchovny spill what's next.
House of Lies and Marty, King Con of The Corporate World
Sinful Sunday's youngest member is the sophomore series House of Lies, produced by and starring Cheadle as Marty Kaan, a leader in the ruthless, opportunistic world of management consulting. Together with the rest of his pod — or team of consultants — he swindles his way into deals with major corporations, but such a ruthless existence has its consequences outside of the office.
But those consequences have led to success for the network and Nevins, who boasts House of Lies as the “strongest comedy on our schedule, ratings-wise.” “It just feels like this show is starting to happen,” Nevins says. Even Macy admits he’s a fan, albeit a jealous one: “Cheadle is just great, but he should pay themto do that role,” he says. Indeed, Cheadle is enjoying the freedom of starring on a Showtime series. “There’s definitely a style of writing that appears on cable that definitely doesn’t happen anywhere else … definitely not on network television and unfortunately, not any more really in the movies, a lot of times,” Cheadle says.
According to the critically beloved actor, his series steps outside the boundaries of most other cable and pay-cable series. “I don’t know a lot of shows that deal with cross-gender kids and deal with parents and how to talk about that, and I don’t see a lot of [Marty’s son] Roscoe and not a lot of black leads in anything, so I think we were just able to stretch out in ways that are a little different,” Cheadle says.
Season 2 is also going to allow the characters themselves to stretch, now that the ordeal of explaining the giant world of management consulting has been dealt with in Season 1. “We’re getting to know everyone a little better,” he says. “We’re getting deeper and more nuanced … bringing in elements of race. [And] one of our characters deals directly with the Occupy [Wall Street] issue."
Of course, social politics add dimension, but fans of the show are likely waiting in fitful anticipation to see what happens between Marty and Jeannie (Kristen Bell) after last season's finale, during which she broke up with her fiance and the narrative hinted that it had something to do with her hooking up with Marty. Cheadle says Season 2 will have some serious work to do in sussing out what it all means for their relationship after their implied moment: “Well, we’re definitely trying to figure out what happened between Marty and Jeannie. Is this the start of something?”
After all, that's a question that lingered throughout the show's first season. The duo has spent 12 episodes flipping back and forth between potential romance and potential mutual destruction. “I think they clearly had this love, this strange dynamic between them of partners, and friends, and adversaries," Cheadle says. Of course, the actor won't tell us exactly where Marty and Jeannie will find themselves once they broach the love subject, or whether or not that hint in the season finale was a giant tease. We’re not that lucky.
Hank Moody, The Californicat-or
Last, but not least, comes Duchovny’s seasoned Showtime vet Hank Moody, the champion fornicator of Los Angeles. Over the five years we’ve known Hank, we’ve followed him through his life as a writer in Los Angeles: He wrote a book, taught some college classes, stood trial for statutory rape, wrote a movie for Rza of the Wu Tang Clan, and now, in Season 6, he will take a stab at writing a musical. Clearly, nothing is off limits for Hank. But, of course, despite Hank's many talents, his main draw will be the series' original peg: his apparent sex addiction.
Of course, as he embarks on year six of Moody’s chronicles, Duchovny wants to make it known that Hank is more than a rapscallion. “I tend not to think of [Hank] with one flaw, but as flawed. And by flawed, I mean human,” he says.
Despite his seemingly unwieldy life, Hank is always brought back to earth by some circumstance or consequence for his actions. It’s a cycle that works for him... and for Duchovny, who’s not looking to morph Hank into something he’s not to keep the show “fresh.” "I think it’s a temptation over a long-running series to try to reinvent the character, when in fact the character is the essence of the show,” Duchovny says. “If you change the character and reinvent it, you’re actually making a different show. As fun as it may be for the actor, it’s kind of a dissolution of the bond you’ve made with your audience,” he adds.
And that’s why, time and again, Hank goes through his own form of “reinvention,” according to Duchovny. “The touchstone for Hank instead of reinvention is to come back to the original relationship [with Karen and Becca]… It’s a rediscovery of what’s most important to the characters.”
Heading into Season 6, that’s exactly where we’ll find Hank, who’s just survived his crazy girlfriend’s attempted double suicide. “This year picks up with him getting physically better in the first episode,” Duchovny says.
If we know anything about Hank, it’s that he seems to be able to survive anything. And his reward, this year, is a little time with guest star Marilyn Manson, who Duchovny says got on the show by emailing with the creator Tom Kapinos. “[Manson’s] a fan of Hank’s and Hank’s a fan of Manson,” he says of the rocker’s two-episode stint in which he plays himself.
And while Duchovny’s excited about the guest star, he’s mostly excited to be back. “If we weren’t brought back, then that would have been the end of the show — Hank would have been killed by his crazy lover,” he says.
Luckily for Duchovny, and for his fans, Hank Moody doesn’t go down that easily.
Sinful Sundays … And Beyond
Sundays are loaded up with plenty of laughs and drama starting in winter, and the success of shows like Shameless, House of Lies, and Californication will only lead to more off-the-wall content on the network, like the upcoming Showtime series Ray Donovan, about a professional “fixer” for wealthy families, and Masters of Sex, about the pioneers of the science of human sexuality, airing sometime in 2013. “I feel an enormous sense of freedom and opportunity right now [because] the best people in the business want to be making shows on television," Nevins says. "We’re reaping the benefits."
Lucky for audiences, we all share in that bounty, too.
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[Photo Credit: Showtime (6)]
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I have a confession to make. Actually two. OK, three. I have three confessions to make. 1. I haven't watched USA's summer spy drama Burn Notice in about three seasons. 2. I fell asleep while watching the season six premiere last night and had to watch the end of it this morning. 3. I find Jeffrey Donovan unbelievably attractive.
Now that you know all that, you know where I'm approaching this show from. Originally about CIA operative Michael Westen who gets "burned" and isn't allowed to leave Miami for suspicious reasons he hopes to untangle, Burn Notice started out as a fun and flirty show. It was about Michael trying to deal with his kooky mother, sarcastic partner, and crazy ex-girlfriend while readjusting to life outside the CIA and using his Bond-like skills to solve little mysteries every week for people around town. It was cute. It was a bunch of easily digestible episodes with a theme running through them. It was the perfect show for summer, where you could miss an episode or two or doze off in the middle and it didn't really matter.
Tuning in after six season, things have gotten considerably more complicated. Michael's girlfriend Fiona turned herself in after being framed for blowing up the British consolate and Michael was forced to work by some guy named Anson whose chief crime seems to be wearing a rather unfortuate mustache. There's also a bald CIA (FBI?) agent named Jesse who is running around saving Michael's mom (Sharon Gless, who is always holding a cigarette and never taking a drag) and a lady fed who is wearing Kohl's worst pantsuit.
There was no cute little case this week, no fun kvetching between Michael and his silly partner Sam, there was lots of running and standoffs and explosions. I do like explosions, but the rest seemed so upset. It's like when your stoner friend finally gets upset about something and you kind of freak out because you don't like all his nervous energy and he doesn't quite know how to channel it. Oh, and there's the voice over. Originally it was so Michael could explain his nifty spy tactics, now it's just an annoying incursion to move the plot along.
Yes, Burn Notice is still an enjoyable hour, but it's not what it used to be. It's a show that's gotten bogged down in its own mythology at the expense of the lightness that used to be what attracted so many people to it. Good thing Jeffrey Donovan is still so damn hot.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
Exclusive: Jeffrey Donovan Asks His Enemy for Help in 'Burn Notice' Preview
'Third Watch' Actor Gets A 'Burn Notice'
Burn Notice Premiere
In this exclusive clip from this week's episode of USA's spy drama Burn Notice, renegade agent Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) asks the unlikeliest of people for help on a case: Agent Fullerton (Jere Burns), the man responsible for Weston's burn, and the blackmailer of his girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar). But as the clip proves, sometimes enemies can help each other out.
Burn Notice airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on USA.