Sigmund Freud would have loved Cougar Town.
The comedy series has boasted some seriously creepy themes since the beginning, introducing them subtly and then gradually building up to an all-out psychological minefield in its latest TBS-backed season. When we met Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox) in the regrettable first chapter of the program, she was a 40-year-old mook devoted to the pursuit of much younger romantic partners. Since abandoning this cringe-inducing premise, Cougar Town has become something a ton more watchable: now, instead of fawning over 20-something males, Jules spends her time drinking wine with her best friends, torturing and teasing her husband Grayson (Josh Hopkins), and fawning over her son, Travis (Dan Byrd). In kind of an odd way.
The show has made some eye-wideningly blunt allusions to Jules' bizarre love for her son. Cougar Town frequently jokes about how her obsession with Travis teeters the lines of propriety, and how her feelings for him sometimes manifest in complicated, pseudo-romantic/sexual ways. It's all played for laughs, all acknowledged as jarring and disturbing in-universe. As such, nobody really ever calls much attention to it as a problem. What people do seem bothered by, instead, is the romance of Travis and Laurie (Busy Phillips), which culminates in a kiss in the Cougar Town season finale.
After years of pining after Laurie, his mother's former employee and close friend, Travis earned her affections this season, sealing their romantic relationship with the labored-over "perfect kiss" in Tuesday night's season finale. While those submitting wholly to the constructs of romantic love will find some fondness for the union, many will find fault with this pair. "She's his mom's best friend!" they'll say. "It's creepy!"
Yes, maybe. But you're judging it based on the standards of our universe, not Cougar Town's. Things are weird in this reality: Travis spends all of his time hanging out with his mother and father (who, by the way, are divorced, after the latter's string of infidelities... yet, somehow, they remain best friends), their neighbors (who operate in an ostensibly loveless marriage and neglect their young son, who might well be a sociopath), her mother's new husband (who is mean, vain, and whose homophobia was excused earlier this season), and the lonely voyeur who peers in from outside the kitchen window. If you look at all that madness, you'll concede that Travis and Laurie getting together is one of the least creepy things going on on Cougar Town.
It's a show founded on skewing from the confines of society's limitations, although not in any rebellious or meritorious way. Simply, in the name of lazy hedonism. Why do we give a free pass to Jules for skipping work, drinking all, and nearly lusting after her son, to Grayson for basking in his heated intolerance, to Bobby Cobb (Brian Van Holt) for cheating on his ex-wife for years, not to mention all of the other nonsense that goes on in this cul-de-sac, then why are we so troubled by Travis and Laurie?
All things considered, the two of them getting together is just about the most acceptable turn of events this show has taken. Bravo, young love. Bravo.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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Actor Burt Ward loves his timeless superhero sidekick Robin. But even more so, he loves the fans who love Robin. "People come up to me and they say, 'We like the Batman movies, but we like what you did with Batman much better,'" he says. "And, in fact, when [Batman TV series star] Adam [West] is speaking to a crowd, he says, 'You know, when you go the movie theaters, you see the Dark Knight. But with Burt and me… we’re the Bright Knights.'"
As recently as June of this year, rabid Batman fans speculated over whether writer/director Christopher Nolan might be holding back a massive secret regarding his final comic book outing, The Dark Knight Rises: the inclusion of Robin, the Caped Crusader's faithful sidekick. The rumors arrived on the heels of a turbulent on-screen history for the character: Early scripts of the of original 1989 Batman saw the introduction of the Boy Wonder, but the idea was nixed by Tim Burton. Robin was eventually weaved into movie continuity, settling in perfectly with the campier, Joel Schumacher films Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Would Robin work in the grittier world of Nolan's Batman trilogy? Addressing the issue in a recent Hollywood.com interview, Dark Knight Rises producer Michael Ulsan recounted famed comic legend Stan Lee's take on sidekicks: "Stan said that the whole concept of having a kid around, that an adult would subject to this level of danger and violence and jeopardy and threat, makes no sense whatsoever. To him, it was always the easiest attack on the believability of the characters in his stories."
If Ward, who starred as Robin alongside Adam West's Caped Crusader on the popular 1966 TV show Batman, is to be believed, Hollywood's problem with Robin isn't that the character doesn't make sense, it's that the industry has never found a very good one. (Sorry, Chris O'Donnell.) When Ward, 21 at the time, was bestowed with the role by Batman producers, it was obvious to him they had not just cast Robin. "They said to me, 'Burt, we’re going to explain to you why we’re selecting you out of 1,100 people, why we’ve chosen you to play this role.' I said, 'Why’s that?' They said, 'Because in our minds, Burt ... if there was really a Robin, we believe that you, personally, would be closest to what Robin would be. We don’t want you to take on some characterization of the character. We really want you to be yourself, and to be enthusiastic.' That was what they required."
While the '60s era Batman played up the comedic elements, twentysomething Ward had all the makings of a real-life superhero. "I was a straight-A [student] at UCLA. I was in the top three percent of the country in math and science on the college level. My dean wanted me to be a nuclear physicist and not an actor. I was the world’s fastest reader. I could read 240 words a minute with 40 percent comprehension. I actually trained for years, and I was tested by the American Medical Society in Beverly Hills at 30,000 words a minute with 90 percent comprehension. I read the entire play of Macbeth in one minute. I read War and Peace, which is 1,440 pages, in 40 minutes." Ward had the brains, but he wasn't lacking in the physical department, either. By 1965, he was a black belt in karate — an even more impressive feat knowing the martial arts fighting style only made its way to the states around 1961. "I could break a board with my hand," he says. "I could do all kinds of stuff. The fight scenes were really good. I was very natural in the fight scenes. I was far better than the stunt man!"
By the time Robin was introduced in Batman Forever, the franchise was knee-deep in over-the-top plots and villains. Instead of introducing Robin as part of Batman's world, or allowing their relationship to evolve, the duo were thrust upon each other for a comic book adventure. Ward believes his Robin was so successful thanks to his natural rapport with West — an element lacking in the big-screen adventures. "Adam and I have a certain chemistry," he said. "I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m very athletic, and very 'Let’s go!', and very energetic, and he’s more a slob and debonair. But we’re always like Mutt and Jeff, or Abbott and Costello."
Under West's wing, slipping into the role was easier for Ward than he could have ever imagined. "I picked it up really quick, because they explained to me that Robin was the ward – isn’t that weird too? That my name is Burt Ward, and I was the ward of Bruce Wayne?"
For the actor, the psychology of Robin, of suiting up, was an asset to understanding the role. "Imagine yourself in a costume, and imagine you’re wearing a mask," says Ward. "Now think of yourself and that the mask is outside of you. You have people in front of you, and then you have this mask, so they all look like you’re looking through a doorway or something, a window, and imagine there’s you, on the inside. Well, the people can’t see you, because they see this mask. And they see this image, and yet you are like a psychologist looking through a window at a patient who doesn’t see you." Ward's philosophical musings on Robin helped him make sense of Batman's larger lapses in logic — as well as the fandom he experiences on a day-to-day basis.
"When they would have the scene with Adam and I as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson inside Commissioner Gordon’s office, and then we say we have to leave, and five minutes later there’s a call for Batman and Robin and there we are again, as Batman and Robin." Ward recalls complaining to producers that there was "nobody in the world who would believe that we’re not the same people." Running out of a room as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, while Batman and Robin ran in only moments later, was ludicrous. But after contemplating life behind the mask, and later, meeting fans at conventions, the actor came to an understanding. "I learned a heck of a lesson, because when I would go out and make personal appearances in costume, people would fight over my paper drinking cup as a souvenir. Four-and-a-half hours of people waiting in line. By the time parents got up there, their kids were asleep in their arms, and they would just go nuts. And after the appearance, I could go back and change, and come out 10 minutes later, and people were still milling around. And I can walk like I was invisible."
According to Ward, Robin fandom is as strong as ever. He's a regular at comic book conventions, where his panels with West draw crowds of thousands, and his impact on pop culture continues to show its face. Yes, even “Boy Wonder, I Love You,” the song he recorded with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. DJs in Los Angeles continue to play the odd tune, a true testament to Ward's staying power as the noble Robin. "We did this album, and I took these actual fan mails and pieced them together," says Ward. "Frank Zappa was very intellectual. He was a graduate of Columbia University in music. I’m all-American, apple pie, and these guys come out on stage and they tear up your equipment. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!" The song climbed instantly climbed the charts. "We were number six in Chicago. They said they definitely thought it would go on to number one if it hadn’t been pulled by the censors… It was such an innocent thing. And it was totally written by a six year old kid! It was so sweet and innocent, but oh boy, the censors got after that."
If Hollywood doesn't have a place for a dark, gritty, modern Robin, Ward has a solution: bring him and West back. "Look when they did the Star Trek movies. Instead of replacing them, like the replaced Adam and I, the Star Trek movies… you saw William Shatner from many different movies, and Leonard Nimoy. And who cared that they were older? You loved them all the more!" In recent years, Ward's acting career (which is as fruitful as ever: he and West will appear on an upcoming episode of Futurama) has become priority number two over his other passion: animal rescue. In his California home, Ward cares for animals of all shapes and sizes. A recent week spent with California's first police camel, "Deputy Bert" (see left), has even inspired him to produce his own reality show, which he hopes to have on TV soon. But no matter what other ventures come his way, Ward won't forget Robin or how important the character is to fans. If he was called back into action, he'd be there in a second. "I have to get back in shape, but so would Adam, in a minute. And let me tell you something, they would pull in an audience they don’t have."
For more on Ward's animal rescue efforts, visit his site Gentle Giants Rescue.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox, Burt Ward]
You know what Kelly Ripa doesn't talk about enough? The Flash. For those of you in that mindset: fear not. The Live! host will be joined by Jim Parsons, the celebrated star of The Big Bang Theory. Parsons will be acting as guest host on Live! on Tuesday, Jan 3. But he's just the first star to kick off the week: Ripa will be joined by her husband Mark Consuelos, David Duchovny and Rob Lowe all in the week of Jan. 3 through Jan. 6. So, whether you're partial to the deadpan nerdiness of The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon (Parson), the hedonistic debonair of Californication's Hank Moody (Duchovny), or the literally-most-exciteable-person-on-Earth that is Parks and Recreation's Chris Traeger (Lowe), you'll be pleased by the first week of the Live! new year on. -TVLine
Nick Zano can be seen on 2 Broke Girls as the recurring character Johnny, a love interest for Max (Kat Dennings). But now, Zano will be stepping away from the filthy alleys of television's version of Brooklyn, and heading over to the golden streets of television's version of Los Angeles. Zano will be appearing on the CW series 90210 in a guest role this coming February. Zano will play P.J., an affluent do-nothing who might be undergoing a change in his value system when he meets Annie (Shenae Grimes). After Zano's character falls for the series' star, he might turn his life around and clean up his act. 90210 returns from hiatus on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. on the CW. -E Online
William Devane should be a name familiar to anyone with a history of watching operas. But now he'll be enjoying a stint on primetime television in ABC's Revenge. Devane will appear on the surprisingly thrilling new drama as Edward Grayson, the leader of the affluent Grayson family and father to Conrad (Henry Czerny). However, it is not his son who calls upon Edward for help, but Victoria, Conrad's soon-to-be-ex-wife (Madeleine Stowe). Devane will find his way to the Hamptons in February for a two-episode stint on the show. Revenge returns from hiatus on Wednesday, Jan. 4 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. -EW
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.