January is a time for reflection. A time to think back upon the past year, to assign merit to the 365-day conglomeration through which you trudged and toiled all in the hopes of getting one step closer to that new Lazy Susan for the backyard patio. B
ut when we take our dear, departed 2012 into consideration, we might find the results unnerving. Of the 52 weeks to comprise the year in question, only about three of them (and that's rounding up) could be described, in any fortuitous way, as happy.
A mere 19 nonconsecutive days out of this latest Year of the Dragon amounted to whatever semblance of joy with which American public has not yet become entirely desensitized.
Delivering a pure, simple, heartfelt expression of comedic wealth, the ingredients of this scattered fortnight-and-change can be referred to as Happy Endings days — those incomparable calendar marks bearing that oh so special 30 minute period during which an otherwise unfathomable bliss overtakes all caught in its beam, courtesy of the good minds at ABC.
And courtesy of the clearly improving minds at ABC, 2013 will up the ante on its bestowal of glee, as Happy Endings is now set to air two nights a week.
The first new episode of the week, and of the year on the whole, broadcast on Sunday, instilling within anyone overwhelmed by January depression or just good old winter madness the good faith that 2013 is worth tolerating, if only for these semiweekly half-hour spurts of jubilation.
In keeping with its perfect pattern of revisiting old sitcom tropes with an inscrutable flare, the latest ep transforms two very old hat scenarios into fresh, vital displays of postmodern comedy.
The Destruction Coverup
The old joke: One or more parties (Brad and Penny) inadvertently destroy something precious that belongs to their friend (Alex), and go to extreme and manic lengths to cover up their transgression, usually to discover that the friend in question doesn't care all that much about the thing to begin with... or, in some cases (including this one), is actually at fault for its destruction.
The new twist: Brad and Penny accidentally smash a beloved ceramic plate of Alex's... and in attempting (successfully) to glue to back together, they accidentally kill her pet parrot, another misdeed they must then spend the bulk of the episode covering up.
Shows that have done this before: The Brady Bunch, The Golden Girls, Saved by the Bell (twice), Three's Company, Hey Arnold, Community (in a surprisingly conventional fashion).
The Happy Endings touch: It's not easy to take such a well-tread territory as this storyline and make it as funny as this episode of Happy Endings does.
But the humor can be accredited to the unparalleled commitment by Damon Wayans, Jr., and Casey Wilson in their peril over the discovery of their unintended bird-killing. Additionally, the return of Tyler the bigoted parrot is a sure-fire win.
The Setup Competition
The old joke: Two or more parties (Dave and Jane) compete in a mission to find the perfect suitor for a third friend (Max), usually supplying inadequate dates for said friend, and perhaps even leading him or her to a third party.
The new twist: Both Dave and Jane unwittingly attempt to set Max up with carbon copies of themselves — Dave's date for Max is a painfully laid back, John Mayer-loving musician, and Jane's is a fatally uptight and obsessive-compulsive aggressor.
Shows that have done this before: Friends, Cheers, Frasier, Seinfeld had a variation.
The Happy Endings touch: The humor in this storyline comes from our pure affection for these characters. Watching Dave match wits (or lack thereof) with a Dave doppelganger, and Jane teaming up with a man-Jane in the pursuit of Max's love will fuel nonstop laughter for any time-tested fan of the show and these people.
All that and a historic cold open featuring a wordplay battle royale, and a call to attention of just how obnoxious these people would be to actually sit near in a public eatery, make for a great start to 2013. And the best part: the next new episode is Tuesday night!
ABC, you're a wonderful enabler.
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Beware parents. Your kids--especially your little girls--will want to see Enchanted over and over whether you want to sit through all the sugary sweetness multiple times or not. The tale follows Giselle (Amy Adams) a beautiful and plucky young lass who is waiting for her Prince Charming--or in this case Prince Edward (James Marsden)--so she can live happily ever after as his princess. But Edward’s stepmother the evil sorceress Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) has no intention of giving up her throne. So before the happy couple can say “I do ” Narissa banishes Giselle from her magical musical animated land by pushing her down a well thus sending her into the gritty reality of the streets of modern-day Manhattan. Shocked by this strange new environment that doesn’t operate on magical bliss Giselle is now adrift in a chaotic world badly in need of enchantment. But when Giselle begins to fall for Manhattanite Robert (Patrick Dempsey) a divorce lawyer who has come to her aid she wonders: Can a storybook view of romance survive in the real world? By God she’s going to find out. You might not think it would be tough to play an animated fairy-tale princess come to life in the real world but try playing it with a straight face. Adams not only makes you believe Giselle is a living breathing storybook character with her delicate mannerisms and unbearably sunny disposition but she does so without giving you a toothache. Yes Adams has to break into song on more than one occasion as princesses-in-making are wont to do but it’s when Giselle starts to become more well human that the talented actress truly shines. For example Giselle has never known anger but when she loses it with Robert Adams plays it with such wonder and amazement it’s infectious. Adams’ Supporting Actress Oscar nod for her similarly cheery performance in Junebug wasn’t a fluke; she could be looking at nomination No. 2. Trust me. The rest of the cast unfortunately pales in comparison but they serve their purpose. Dempsey is adequately bewildered and enchanted by this strange girl he picks up in the middle of the street while Marsden plays the prince with the right amount of cluelessness and bravado. Only Sarandon seems out of place as the evil queen. She looks great in the makeup and costumes but the veteran actress goes just a wee bit over the top. Not since 1992’s Cool World has animated characters-turned-real people been so convincing. Of course Enchanted takes things onto a much more PG-friendly path with director Kevin Lima--having already directed Tarzan and The Goofy Movie--keying into that certain animated Disney mentality. Enchanted offers plenty of warm and fuzzy feelings--and should get your toes tapping during the original song and dance numbers. Giselle’s theme song about finding one’s true love as she dances through Central Park is one in particular you won’t be able to get out of your head. I can see the Disney theme park attractions now. Yeah so Enchanted isn’t terribly inspired or all that innovative; it's not very funny either. But after all the political violent and ultra-serious movies this holiday season its syrupy confection should provide some good old-fashioned family entertainment--and make you smile.