This week, fans of Happy Endings are invited to take a trip back in time. We pay visit to a simpler era, one peppered with Scotty appearances and devoid of Dave/Alex romances. I’m speaking of course about mid-2012, from whence the latest episode of the ABC sitcom originated. See, amid the shuffling and rescheduling of Happy Endings’ second season, one wayward episode was doomed to oblivion, never reaching American broadcast during its allotted period of pertinence. But not wishing to let a perfectly good half-hour of television comedy go to waste, the network has opted to implant the ep in Season 3, landing it as the third new entry of 2013.
It’s not a terribly uncommon practice, but one that seldom goes off without a hitch these days. In-universe chronology is becoming more and more important a quality for episode management as overarching story is playing a greater role than it ever has among television comedies. But Happy Endings, as proven with the unqualified success of “KickBall 2: The Kickening” (titled as such not to indicate itself a sequel to a past episode, but entirely as a joke concerning events within this week’s show), is one of a dying breed.
Those not already aware of the existence of the long anticipated phenomenon that is this “sport”-themed episode might not even notice anything strange about the timeline. The only giveaway is an opening tag that indicates that Alex and Dave have not yet moved back in together (nor do they appear to be dating, although there is no explicit dialogue to call direct attention to this). Other than this, and an ostensible springtime or summertime setting, “Kickball 2” could easily take place one week following whatever the hell these crazy Chicagoans were up to last Tuesday. On Happy Endings, each week is a standalone adventure — sure, the show will occasionally guest cast a boyfriend for Penny, who’ll hang around for a few consecutive weeks. Or maybe attention will be called to Brad having recently lost his job or Jane having switched hers. But even newcomers to the show won’t be in wanting for more context upon these elements — offhand mentions are all you need to get caught right up.
Two weeks ago, we covered how Happy Endings models its internal structure (episode plots and jokes) after sitcom tradition, borrowing tropes and molding them into fresh, new magic. But the triumph of "KickBall 2"'s timelessness highlights the show's adherence to a dissipating attitude on television storytelling once upheld by each and every on-air sitcom (in the pre-Seinfeld times), and just how valuable an asset it is in the present day. It is so difficult to draw new viewers into the fandom of our television comedies of the utmost quality — those like Community, Girls, Parks and Recreation, and Veep, among others — with precedent warnings like, "You have to start from the beginning!" With a devotion to chronology being mandated in so many of today's sitcoms, it is a rare treat to find a show that is both brilliantly written and capable of being enjoyed from just about any point in the series on.
And so very enjoyable is "KickBall 2," not to mention so very silly. Alex signs the whole gang up for a kickball tournament, not knowing that her hyper-competitive sister Jane has already teamed up with a more athletically skilled troupe of mechanics (sparking some traumatic childhood memories of Jane selling out Alex for a spot onstage at a primate-themed children's program).
So, feisty Alex is left with her scruffy, perpetually inebriated self-appointed manager Max; a heels-wearing, just-in-it-to-meet-guys Penny; bunts-only Brad (they call him Bunt Cake); steroid-addict and all around weirdo Scotty; and Dave, who, thanks to the haunting guilt of having nailed Penny in the face during a past game of kickball, cannot, for the life of him, get on base. And it all plays out the way you might expect — Alex and Jane reconcile and unite, Dave gets over his phobia and kicks a conclusive line-drive (again, right into Penny's face), Brad branches out beyond his bunting fixation, Penny finds "true love" (in a star-gazing Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, no less), and Scotty suffers the fate of intravenous drug abuse side effects. All in all, everybody has a happy ending. (Hey, wait a minute!)
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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Based on the award-winning book by Bernhard Schlink The Reader is an extraordinary provocative and controversial story set in post-World War II Germany. It starts when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) becomes ill with scarlet fever and is helped home by sympathetic woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). After his recovery he returns to thank her and is drawn into a clandestine affair with this intriguing woman more than twice his age. Their relationship grows stronger especially when he starts reading to her. But then she suddenly disappears leaving a devastated Michael who now must move on with his life. Little does he know that eight years later while he is in law school he would see Hanna again -- as one of the defendants in a court case against Nazi war criminals. Shocked at revelations about her secret past he also discovers something that will change both their lives forever. Granted Kate Winslet is one of the finest young screen actresses but her range in The Reader will astonish you. It’s an extremely tricky part that could easily lose the audience’s sympathy if done incorrectly but Winslet handles it with aplomb. She runs through the whole gamut of emotions -- aging from her 30s to 60s -- all at once sexy mysterious conflicted contrite as well as many other colors. As Michael newcomer Kross is devastatingly good the most impressive acting discovery in a long time. Although he plays 15 he was 17 at the start of filming and production had to shut down until he turned 18 for the graphic sex scenes. As the story flashes forward Ralph Fiennes takes over the role as the older Michael and does so with a touching sincerity. Lena Olin also has a strong cameo as a Holocaust survivor with definite opinions of Hanna. Although this is only acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry’s third film he once again shows a mastery of the medium far beyond his limited cinematic resume. Like The Hours and his debut film Billy Elliot he has crafted another film to savor. The Reader isn’t necessarily the most comfortable film to watch but Daldry guides the subject matter with a delicate and steady hand giving us a complex and touching love story between the most unlikely couple. It also delves into how one generation of Germans can come to terms with the horrors of another. Daldry’s directorial restraint and power perfectly serves David Hare’s impressive screenplay and delivers a memorable movie-going experience.
Go ahead and throw logic out the window on this one folks. A mysterious Tibetan monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has spent a lifetime protecting an ancient document known as the Scroll of the Ultimate--a parchment that will yield unlimited power to anyone who reads it. After running around the globe for 60 years the Monk knows it's time to hang up his robes and find a new guardian but spotting a successor isn't easy in the hustle bustle of the 21st century where Tibetan traditions and rituals are almost non-existent. Maybe the next protector should be the crafty rebellious pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott) who learned martial arts from watching kung-fu movies; after all Kar helps the Monk escape from the scroll's most avid pursuer Strucker (Karel Roden) a sadistic old Nazi who wants to use the its power to rid the planet of inferior races. Or maybe the Monk's successor is the elusive but beautiful bad girl Jade (James King) whose skills are numerous and who seems to pop up to help Kar whenever he gets in a jam. Whomever the Monk eventually chooses they must first unite to battle the ultimate enemy--and keep the scroll safe.
If it weren't for Yun-Fat Bulletproof Monk would be pretty hopeless. The charismatic actor finds a nice balance no matter what he does and in this case he resists the obvious temptation to play the Monk as a fish out of water in the big city. Since he's long been one of Chinese cinema's most well-known action heroes he's definitely in his element in Monk standing on top of a car with guns blazing and the Zen master persona he discovered in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon serves him well here too. The script requires him to spout off fortune-cookie mumbo jumbo but he manages to do it without sounding ridiculous. The petite King actually holds her own as the brawny-yet-brainy tough chick but the wisecracking Scott is completely out of his element for the first time in his career. He handles the little comedic tidbits well but in no way is it possible to believe that the "Dude" who couldn't find his car and the jackass who drank someone else's bodily fluids in American Pie can be a martial arts hero who saves the planet. It just isn't going to happen.
Bulletproof Monk relies on the ghosts of movies past including Crouching Tiger and the 1986 Eddie Murphy stinker The Golden Child for its plot which results in a film that's chock full of cliches especially the evil Nazi who has spent 60 years chasing after the scroll using his tow-headed granddaughter whose cover is an organization for human rights to do the dirty work. A few bright moments with Yun-Fat coupled with director Paul Hunter's good use of fast-paced martial arts action make the rest of this unimaginative movie somewhat palatable--even novices Williams and King look good doing the moves--but all in all Bulletproof Monk is shooting blanks.