Yes, everyone, Lady Sybil is still dead. Unlike Matthew's fickle paralysis and the waddle below the Dowager Countess' neck there is not going to be any changing that. And everyone continues to be so, so very sad now that she's gone. There were more pale faces on the show than in a consumption ward in a Charles Dickens novel. There were just as many jails too. God, can we just get Bates out of jail already? I continue to not care one lick about this storyline at all. I mean a vital young woman can have a baby and die in half an episode and they can't even figure out how to get one poor loser out of the clink in over four? Seriously!
Well, there were plenty of things to love and hate in this episode, so let's get right down to it, shall we?
Ethel Can't Cook: It's so sweet that Isobel gave Old Pro Ethel a job as her maid and I love that she's a terrible cook. Poor Isobel, always the Christian martyr can't admit to herself or others when she's made a terrible mistake. It's when that annoying friend of yours in college went vegan and the first time her birthday rolled around and she got a vegan cupcake and you watch the pained expression on her face as she tries to get that congealed sawdust with too much sugar down her gob. I love that face.
The Way Mrs. Hughes Says Ethel: I'm not quite sure how it's different but it's like the combination of a sneer and a vocal twirl. Like she wants to disparage her and herald her arrival at the same time. Mostly it's the drawn out "lllllll" at the end of her voice.
Edith's Seat at the Table: For whatever stupid antiquated reason Edith, my heroine in journalistic integrity, is not allowed to eat breakfast in bed because she's not married, but when all the men are sitting around at breakfast discussing the fate of Sybil's child, she's the only woman in the house with a voice in the discussions. Funny how my darling Edith is more powerful than ever.
William's Father Loves a Lady: Isn't it so nice that William, the footman who died in WW I and was so idiotic that he was obsessed with Daisy (and how many times did we have to hear her annoying Cockney say, "But Aye don't luv 'im!"), hooked his beloved blushing bride up with his father? Isn't it so nice that this working man has figured out that Downton and all the great houses are just waiting to be scrapped for bricks or turned into museums once PBS shows make them famous and fat Americans journey hours by plane and light rail to see them? Don't you love that he wants to leave his farm to a woman to run? Don't you love how modern he is? Don't you wish he'd be more modern with a woman we love and not, you know, stupid Daisy?
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The Luck of the Irish: Of course Branson, like a good Irish man, only wants to farm sheep on his little farm that Matthew offers to give him. (And seriously, Branson, for the good of future seasons and your muscles stretching out undershirts and work shirts and filling out a pair of overalls, you should really take the damn farm.) Have you ever been to Ireland? The only think you'll see more of than green, rain, and drunk driving PSAs are freaking sheep. There are no real crops, other than potatoes, shamrocks, and some sort of grain that they use to make the most delicous brown bread in the entire world. (Note to my Irish readers: If you send me a loaf of brown bread, I will drive all the snakes out of your country.) And then, as if to make himself sound even more Irish, he says that he's just going to get a cousin of his to help him take care of his daughter. If there is one thing that the Irish have more than sheep it's layabout cousins.
The Lord of Nothing: Oh god, how awful is Lord Grantham this season? He's just so awful and old fashioned and no one is listening to him and everything he says is just stupid and wrong-headed and gets Mary's panties in a wad more than Edith spitting in her split pea soup. Cora won't forgive him for what he did to Sybil, he won't relinquish any control of the estate to Matthew even though he realizes he's the fool who put them in this position in the first place, and he has a total conniption when Branson says he wants his daughter to be Catholic. I know it's hard to change, but he needs an attitude adjustment like Jimmy Kent needs a lesson on how to wind the clocks. The one good part came when he accused Mary of being against him and (that spoiled brat) Mary says "I"m never against you, but you've lost on this one." It's not that she's against him it's that she, and everyone else, it seems, is against everything he believes in. If he's going to keep behaving like this, I'm glad everyone is treating him like crap.
No One Cares About Ethel: The only two people who care that Ethel was a whore are Carson and Lord Grantham and all the other women and whatnot are like, "Whatever, she sold it and now she's getting her life together. That's no crime. But you should taste her Salmon Mousse. They should lock her away with Bates for serving that." It's probably just that Carson and Our Lord are the only two that have hired hookers in the past so they're feeling some sort of projected guilt.
Violet's Quip of the Week: "She has an appropriate costume for every activity"
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Branson's Attire: This was the guy who refused to wear anything but his ratty tweed suit to his sister-in-law (and former employer's) wedding and now he's wearing some fancy mourning jacket (not to be confused with a morning jacket or My Morning Jacket) without any sort of fuss. Come on now. That's just crazy.
Ethel Gets Help: Mrs. Pattmore, I expected more of you. I know you're a nice lady, but should you really go down there helping Ethel to learn how to cook? No, you should not. You should be at home in your kitchen shoving Daisy's hands on one of the burners.
Salmon Mousse: Who would ever want to eat something called Salmon Mousse?! It sounds like that pink slime that fast food restaurants make hamburgers out of that caused a national scandal recently.
Lady Mary's Gossip: How is it that Lady Mary always knows some key bit of information that she deploys at just the right moment and things always go her way. She finds out about Lavinia's letter so that Matthew gives all her money to save Downton. She finds out Sybil wanted her daughter to be Catholic and then tells everyone about that. I don't know about you, but if I was in that Crawley family I would begin to get suspicious of Mary's well-timed pronouncements, wouldn't you?
Chef Edith: Don't make Edith learn how to cook. That's just cruel for the poor girl.
Jimmy's Gay Panic: I don't know that I like where this Jimmy and Thomas storyline is going. I love that O'Brien is clamly instigating Thomas' demise because of what he did to (her son?) Alfred, because I am a bitch and I think plotting like that is fun to watch. However, as an American homosexual, I don't enjoy that Jimmy is getting all creeped out whenever Thomas touches him. I also don't like that Thomas is being so handsy with this young man when he's shown no indication that he wants to be touched. This is going to end either one of two ways. Either we're going to find out that Jimmy, like Thomas, is gay and the reason he's so uncomfortable is because he's working out some issues of his own or, like O'Brien hopes, Thomas is going to go too far and Jimmy is going to bludgeon Thomas to death with a poker. I hope it's the former and not the latter. And if it is the latter, can we forget about him to rot in jail so that it's not all dragged out and awful like the whole Bates storyline?
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Bates' Lost Statement: Speaking of the awful Bates storyline, I said I wasn't going to talk about it anymore because it bores me so much, but I have to bring it up for a second to talk about a pattern of behavior on the show that I absolutely loathe. Mr. Murray, the lawyer, goes to see that mean old lady who saw the dead Mrs. Bates baking a pie and somehow proves that Bates is innocent (we don't care how just so that this will stop). We see Mr. Murray go to talk to her and she is especially uncooperative. Then we see him come to Anna and say, "I got her to make a statement. Bates will be freed." Say what? How did you do it? How did she change her mind? When is this going to happen? Why can't you show us! Yes, this is a television show. On a television show we all watch things. Do you know what someone telling you about something that happened is? It is not watching, it is hearing. Do you know where you hear things? On the radio. We aren't listening to the radio. It's time that Downton starts with more showing and less telling. They had the same problem when Mary was like, "Matthew, I opened your secret letter and I read it," and we never got to see it. That is ridiculous. Save all these stupid things for the audiobook. In the meantime, why not show us the key events that drive along the plot, no matter how ludicrous or tedious those plots may be.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Masterpiece]
Television fans are a unique set. We're the type of people who devote hours upon hours a week to our fictional, televised friends. We laugh at their jokes and cry when they cry because our favorite shows are just so darn good. But the intensity of the laughter and the tears is all thanks to the fact that we regard these characters as something of a family. We know them. We understand them. We love them unconditionally. And actors deserve recognition for being able to elicit that level of a reaction from their fans. Naturally, when they're not given their due, we're forced to react, well, emotionally. How, exactly, will we react? That depends on the actor in question. Next up is the sassiest countess to ever grace the small screen, Downton Abbey star Maggie Smith.
I'm just going to cut to the chase here, people: Dame Maggie Smith is an icon. If she was American, she'd be a damn national treasure. They would make 1,000 gold-plated statues of her likeness and drop them throughout the American countryside for everyone to gaze upon in adulation and honor. These are just facts of science. She is 77 years old and has probably been playing that age for the last 40 years — talk about commitment! But it has arguably been on Masterpiece Theater's hit Downton Abbey that she's shined the most. And listen, if homegirl doesn't win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama this year for her masterstroke turn as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, things will go terribly wrong. Like, Thomas and O'Brien scheme-levels of terrible. I will make sure of it, with Bates as my witness!
First of all, she is a dame. A literal, actual dame — as in a title that was given to her by the bloody Queen of England, Elizabeth II. That's the female version of a knight, you guys! Pay your respects. But outside of being one of the most fabulous geriatric ladies there is, she's also an icon in the biz (yes, that's right — the biz!). Sure, she won the Emmy last year for her role (but back then, Downton was in the miniseries category), but credit must be given when credit is due. She's only ever won two Emmys in her lifetime, which is a colossal crime. Time to make up for lost time, I say.
The past year of Downton's reign has been a revelation for its American home, PBS/Masterpiece Theater. Remember when PBS was just sitting-at-your-grandparents-house viewing? Not anymore: Downton Abbey made PBS fun again, and gave us a weekly dose of Edwardian drama our lives were so greatly lacking. It's not just the period costumes that make Downton great (although the fancy hats are unparalleled), but the show's ability to give us soap opera melodrama without all the suds and a bit more intelligence. And while Downton Abbey without Maggie Smith would probably be a fine show, it would definitely not be the great show it is with her. The Dowager Countess is Lord Grantham's mother, and boy, oh boy is she ever a stuck-in-her-ways old-fashioned type. But that's what makes her great! Her reactions to modernity? Priceless. She isn't without a sense of humor, either (how could she be, with a title as dour-sounding as "Dowager"?). The Dowager brings a lightness to the calamitous nature of Downton: because daaaayum that is one kooky, up-in-arms home, y'all. They must live for the days where the most scandalous thing to happen is a lukewarm cup of tea. And while, yes, she sometimes plays a part in that, she's often the voice of the past — and therefore, a great juxtaposition to all the changes that took place in World War I-era England in which Season 2 was set.
Dame Maggie is a seasoned professional, and her dexterous control of the character's psychology is fascinating. The Dowager is largely cold and unapologetic in her opinions, but she's not without heart. Just look at how William the footman weaseled his way in after he was injured in battle. Her emotional attachment to the downstairs staff is straight-up warm-fuzzy status compared to some English nobility (we'd imagine) — and having it come across as sincere and believable? Well, that's all Maggie. Bringin' some fierce old English realness.
And let us not forget the best part of all: zingy one-liners! I swear, creator Julian Fellowes must have a staff of 10 writers that do nothing else but come up with the hilariously brusque things she quips. And she carries them off with the perfect gravitas every time. "All this unbridled joy has given me quite an appetite," was certainly a highlight of Season 2. If you need a refresher, this video should do the trick (and bonus points if you replay it any less than five times. It might be impossible). Have you ever been so happy to gaze upon the imperious stare of a delightfully snobby countess before? We think not. It remains to be seen if Shirley MacLaine will give her a run for her money, but either way, the joy will be exponential with the two women on screen. Every thug needs a lady and every old English aristocrat needs a brash new-monied American to lock horns with, sometimes. Her competition this year is fierce, with castmate Joanne Froggatt (Anna) also up for the award against heavy-hitters like Christina Hendricks, Anna Gunn, Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski, but we know deep down everyone is rooting for Maggie. We just know it, you guys!
So sure, she might not know what weekends are, but that's just the sort of swag a Dowager's got to have: Her life is not defined by the days of the week, y'all. It's all play, all day when you're a Countess of Grantham. And if Maggie Smith doesn't nab that award, I'll make sure none of you ever have a weekend to spend watching reruns and new episodes of Downton Abbey ever again. I will remove every weekend from every gCal, iCal, regular calendar, and sundial. I will petition whoever in the universe is in charge of the days of the week! Say goodbye to your beloved Saturdays and Sundays. Do you hear me, Emmy voters?! Do the right thing. Must every day involve a fight with the Americans? It doesn't have to, if you're smart with this decision.
[Photo Credit: Masterpiece Theater]
Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Louis C.K. an Emmy or I'll Make You Babysit Never
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Julia Louis-Dreyfus an Emmy or I'll Camp on the White House Lawn
Emmys Idle Threats: Give Amy Poehler an Emmy or the Waffles Are Gonna Get It
Sift through comments on franchise sequel announcements and you'll find many crying afoul to Hollywood's insistence of resurfacing every last brand in their bank of titles. The desire for original content is reasonable but occasionally a cinematic follow-up does have the potential to be rich and rewarding. Revisiting characters who've seen time pass in their own lives is worthy of exploration — Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville Richard Linklater's Before Sunset and even A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas prove that theory. American Reunion reaches for that same dramatic arc reentering the lives of its core cast eight years after American Wedding. But instead of mixing comedy with any weighty issues the movie only tickles the nostalgia bone (and without f**king one pie in the process) — a hurdle that keeps American Reunion from being nearly as riotous as the original.
Life hits a wall for Jim (Jason Biggs) in 2012. He's a happily married man a father and a moderately successful employee of a faceless company. But after catching his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) enjoying the company of a shower head it dawns on Jim that he's in need of a shake-up. Perfect timing: Jim packs up the family and heads to his hometown for his 13th high school reunion (sure why not) where he reunites with the old gang: Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) currently whipped into submission by his girlfriend Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) back from a trip around the world Oz (Chris Klein) now a superstar sportscaster fresh off a celebrity dance show stint and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott) a law firm temp who continues to turn women into his own personal squeeze toys. The high school buddies devolve quickly into their old habits alcoholic antics and potty-mouthed rants by the red solo cupful. Good fun for Jim no fun for Michelle.
Instead of digging deep into its well-founded characters (which I swear is allowed in a raunchy R-rated comedy) American Reunion sticks to the familiar goofball scenarios of its predecessors. Which is passable because the core group who stuck through all three movies — Biggs Nicholas Thomas and Scott — make poop-infused pranks and slapstick shtick like a scene in which Jim and co. must get a drunken naked eighteen-year-old back into her parents' house without looking like total creepsters highly entertaining. Scott once again proves him an underused comedic talent making Stifler one of the few characters who can rattle off colorful cuss words while showing a glimmer of humanity. Same goes for Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad who finds his role beefed up now that he's once again single. Grieving for years over his wife's death Jim helps his advice-dealing pop hit the dating scene and Levy spins gold out of the silliest of situations.
The problem with American Reunion is everyone else. Chris Klein never clicks with the rest of the group (that's what he gets for skipping out on Jim's wedding) while the rest of the ensemble feel ham-fisted for cameo purposes rather than complimenting the storyline. Tara Reid and Mena Suvari return to the franchise to stand around and react to the ineptitude of their male counterparts. Natasha Lyonne is in and out faster than Jim's first time. Other brief character appearances are like bigfoot sightings. The idea of bringing the entire cast of the original back for more seems perfect but without proper pacing from writers/directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) there's never a moment to enjoy it.
American Reunion is a flaccid entry servicing fans while coming through with enough laugh out loud moments to make one scream (In one scene Jim takes a page out of Michael Fassbender's Shame that will elicit audible reactions). If these were fresh characters we'd brush it off — but at the film's core is a lovable familiar bunch of knuckleheads that can't be ignored. And if Stifler wants to party you party.
Since his days directing sketches for comedy troupe The State and his seminal debut feature Wet Hot American Summer David Wain has been expertly calculating ways to make his brand of absurdist humor work within the rigid conventional world of Hollywood movies. His latest Wanderlust is the perfect example of a hollow rom-com template that Wain fills to the brim with bizarre jokes and perfectly timed physical humor. His soldier of fortune is Paul Rudd who brings the golden ratio: looks of a leading man and a comedic gravitas that is unmatched. Rudd's at the top of his game whether he's landing a one-liner stretching his face to Jim Carrey-like proportions or reacting to his maniac co-stars the actor delivers—making Wanderlust charming deranged and very funny.
George (Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston better suited for this wacky comedy than you'd think) are a happily married couple living in New York attempting to live the dream lifestyle without any of the reality to fall back on. It doesn't work—George loses his job Linda fails to sell her documentary on penguin testicular cancer and the two find themselves forced to sell their "micro-loft" in the West Village and move in with George's brother in Atlanta. During their epic car ride George and Linda make a pit stop at a local Georgian B&B only to discover it's a counterculture commune home to an eclectic group determined to live on their own alternative terms. The inhabitants of "Elysium" range from nudists to tai chi experts to organic farmers but they all have one goal: live free. Realizing they don't have too much else going on in their lives (their alternative is shacking up with George's materialistic misogynistic businessman brother Rick played by the amazing Ken Marino) George and Linda dive head first into the off-beat world of Elysium.
Wanderlust dishes out its fair share of oddities when exploring the world of Elysium but isn't content in simply exploiting those quirks. Wain who co-wrote the script with Marino fleshes out the ensemble and makes keen choices so that no character is just a face in a crowd. Comedy pros like Justin Theroux Alan Alda Malin Akerman Joe Lo Truglio Kathryn Hahn Kerri Kenney Lauren Ambrose and more round out the cast and help color the world of Elysium piling laughs on top of laughs with every scene. Theroux stands out as Seth a spiritual leader for the group who begins to woo Linda away from George with his savvy guitar skills and potent herbal teas. Seth's slow and steady demeanor is a welcome change from the usual rapid-fire style seen in the modern comedy (the movie was produced by Judd Apatow so it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the approach replicated in Wanderlust) making us laugh in a zen fashion.
Meanwhile George just can't get anything right from group "truth circle" exercises to drinking coffee made of dirt to Elysium's "free love pact " which gives both he and his wife the chance to sexually explore outside of their relationship. The couple quickly realizes the freedom of their new home divides them and Wain's sensitivity to story and character evolve the relationship in a rather conventional yet desirable fashion.
Wanderlust falls somewhere between a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy vehicle and the pleasantly obscene work of Wain's past—and it may catch some off guard. The movie doesn't mind throwing in a bit of male nudity playing with abrasive repetition or those who find laughs in patience. The movie fully embraces the weird while never lettings its characters slip fully into caricature. Much like George and Linda's own dilemma Wanderlust wants to find harmony between the mainstream and the not-so-much. Thankfully it achieves inner peace.