One for the motherland: Sam Lim and I discuss the pilot episode of FX’s The Americans

theamericansLast year, Sam Lim and I had so much fun dissecting the minutiae of Showtime’s captivating Homeland series that we decided to fill in the gap until the next season’s premiere with a new show. As it turns out, The Americans, which airs on FX, also deals with spies, espionage, and double agents. But the premise is quite different and, at least through the first episode, so is the quality.

And we’re off…

Jay: Hey Sam,

So I just finished the series premiere. Excited to be doing this again! Here we go:

I don’t know if I’m just really nitpicky, if I have an incurable contrarian streak, or if I’m actually right, but I thought last night’s pilot episode of The Americans was problematic on a whole, heaping bunch of levels. It’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll check off a few random issues that bothered me the most.

First, more than anything else, this episode felt remarkably contrived. Everything happened just as we might expect them to happen on a network TV show, but I was hoping this would be better. Obviously, while watching the show, I couldn’t resist mentally making the inevitable Homeland comparisons, and in that light The Americans‘ first episode looks even worse. The most glaring example is the Jennings’ next-door neighbor Stan, the FBI agent. Halfway through the episode, when the Jennings were beginning to worry about the curious timing of their new neighbors’ appearance, I thought, “I really hope the show ends up revealing that the FBI has already suspected this couple to begin with, and that the new neighbors were not a coincidence” — because, if not, there is absolutely no plausibility to the idea that Stan would immediately suspect Philip and Elizabeth of being somehow abnormal.

But given Stan’s conversation with his wife in their kitchen, it appears that is simply not the case. His backstory, going undercover with white supremacists, is not a particularly convincing reason to go all renegade and start snooping around the Jennings’ garage. Which brings me to a second point, which is that it is absurd for Philip to not only agree to lend Stan a jumper cable, but then to motion for him to follow him into the garage while he takes it out from under their hostage. There were a million better, and far more obvious, ways to avoid that scenario: telling him he didn’t have the cable, asking him to wait in the living room, and so on. Again, this was one of just many ways in which the episode felt like it was intentionally fabricating made-for-TV moments that make no sense in the real world.

The dialogue, too, was pretty spotty. Basically any time Elizabeth was explaining her loyalty to the Soviet Union, I wanted to laugh. Same with Philip arguing that living in the US was actually pretty decent: “America’s not so bad…Yeah, electricity works all the time. Food’s pretty great.” This is then followed by Elizabeth asking: “Is that what you care about? Not the motherland?” Nothing about that conversation felt real, but it seems certain to appeal to a very provincial and binary mindset in which capitalism/America = good and communism/Soviet Union = bad. I know The Americans is a period drama, but it feels more at home as an actual contemporary show airing in the 1980s than it does as a retrospective series. On the other hand, I did enjoy Elizabeth’s snarky little asides any time her children mentioned how awesome the US was: “You know, the moon isn’t everything. Just getting into space is a remarkable accomplishment.”

I’m going to do a U-turn and head back to some of the more improbable plot points. How about starting with the Jennings having sex in their car at the very location where they’d just dumped the KGB defector’s body? As if that weren’t bad enough, what was the deal with that child predator at the department store? It makes zero sense for Philip to go berserk on him, especially now that he’s under even more pressure than usual not to make a scene or stick out like a sore thumb in the US. I really hope this doesn’t turn into one of those alcoholic-ex-Marine-has-an-eerily-prophetic-premonition-that-Brody’s-a-spy plots (or, for that matter, a Mike-has-the-same-premonition plot), in which Mr. Skinhead becomes a consistent thorn in Philip’s side or something. But if that really is the only episode in which that dude appears, what was the point of his entire storyline? That Philip likes thrashing people and then eating their barbecued food?

Last whine: what’s up with all the music? I think that’s one of the things Homeland does pretty well: there’s some soundtrack music here and there, but it’s organic and serves well in the background. Music in The Americans was overly obnoxious and distracting: it didn’t add anything to the story, but it definitely divided my attention a few times.

OK, so I’m being a bit harsh because I still can’t stop comparing it in my mind to Homeland, which got off to a much, much better start. The bottom line is, I still plan to keep watching.

What did you think?

Sam: I could not agree more: I thought the episode was entirely contrived. Too many story angles seemed unconvincing, and the details just silly, starting with the ending of the episode (which you nailed already). Perhaps my views — like yours — are overly colored by our obsession (?) with Homeland. I mean, sure, even if Stan had his suspicions about Philip, would he really sneak into his garage almost immediately after he met him?

Then again, perhaps him recognizing the model and make of the car as the one the FBI had been tracking gave him such cause, but then that gets to your point about Philip telling Stan to follow him into the garage. C’mon! You couldn’t just offer him a drink inside and say, “Let me go grab it from the garage real fast.” Or better yet, just tell him you don’t have one, since you obviously have no problem lying about most everything else in your life. But I digress.

On an acting level, I felt like Elizabeth was the weakest of all the main characters we met. As you noted, her loyalty to the Soviet Union was laughable. Even after her unfortunate incident with her captain (whom she so desperately wanted to murder in the garage), she still has such love for being a KGB officer? I will say though that the kids were at least normal, unlike the absurdly annoying Dana and seemingly oblivious Chris in Homeland. I say this now, but who knows, perhaps they’ll devolve into moody teenagers as well.

I also didn’t understand the whole predator storyline either. If anything, it seemed like a weak play at trying to show how Philip (and by extension, Elizabeth) have to keep their trained assassin skills under wraps — and perhaps to show off their diverse collection of costumes. But you’re right, where that’s going, I have no idea.

What struck me the most about this show is the attempt to portray how these Soviet Union spies might have thought about living in America or how everything relates to the Cold War. Then again, seeing as how I might have just been transitioning out of diapers when the Berlin Wall fell, I might just be utterly naive about how the 80s were. But it just almost seemed too much. Nearly everything the kids said was somehow turned into a subtle (or not so subtle) jab at how the Soviet Union is better than the US. You noted Elizabeth’s thoughts on space travel, etc. I couldn’t help but laugh when the daughter said she was learning about the Russians cheating on arms control in social studies and the son saying they launched a rocket in science.

Finally, I couldn’t help making a mental note of all the improbabilities I saw. You mentioned a few, but the ones I saw: Fighting with Timoshev and punching his head through a wall in your garage doesn’t wake the kids up? Hmm…I think I’d hear if my parents were duking it out with some guy in my garage and generally making a racket — and head downstairs to the garage to ask them what was going on. Their kids must be heavy sleepers. Also, wouldn’t you handle Timoshev’s body with gloves at least?

The one that caught my eye the most though is a rather silly one and really has nothing to do with anything. When Elizabeth pulls out the brownies she baked from the oven, I assume the baking sheet was hot. She did use a towel after all. But when she picks up the knife, stares at it, and finally drops it back on the counter, her wrist hit the corner of the baking sheet. Silly, I know, but her reaction (or rather, non-reaction) suggested the baking sheet wasn’t very hot.

I plan to keep watching as well, but I really do hope it gets better and that the story angles become less contrived and predictable. They need another layer or two of complexity to this show. But then again, it’s only been one episode.

This is a tough question, since we’ve only seen this pilot episode, but what predictions do you have for next week on The Americans?

Jay: I’m secretly glad you had similar reactions to the pilot episode. I was worried it’d just be me, especially after all the reviews started coming out and they were almost uniformly positive. By the way, I’m pretty sure you win Episode 1’s Most Observant Moment Award for noticing the thing with the baking sheet. That would never, ever have crossed my mind. The Timoshev fight in the garage, however, definitely did, so I’m glad you brought that up. Just not believable.

The good news is, I think reviewers often receive the first two or three episodes all at once, so if they’re all this positive about the show, I’m guessing it gets better within the next few weeks. But even if so, there are certain problems that I’m worried won’t be so easily resolved. One is, as you mentioned, Elizabeth’s character. She’s way too one-dimensional and black-and-white. I’m guessing that’s mostly the fault of the writers, but maybe it’d take a better actress to really sell it too. The jury’s still out on her.

This has already been brought up elsewhere, but there’s something fishy about this couple, who have been married for a decade and a half, only now somehow coming to grips with their conflicted emotions about both their jobs and their marriage. As in, she’s still not sure how she feels about him — after 15 years or so? Similarly, would she really be that shocked that he wants to defect? The general she meets late in the episode mentions that she’d brought up Philip’s hesitance in the past, so she can’t be all that surprised that he wants to defect now, right? It’s also inconsistent that she’s so adamant about fighting for the “motherland” for the entire episode, and then decides at the end not to mention her husband’s desire to defect. Just too many stretches.

If I had to guess, we’ll start to see more of the family life (a development I’d rather not take place, but it feels inevitable). I’m guessing we’ll have the kids almost finding things out in the next few episodes, etc. For the record, and this is more of a side note, I can hardly think of a single TV show or movie in which main characters’ family lives are portrayed in an interesting or relevant way. Even on The Wire, when they show Kima’s or McNulty’s or Lt. Daniels’ home lives, I just want to hit Fast Forward.

What do you think is on the way?

Sam: The few reviews I had read were pretty positive as well, so I was truthfully a bit disappointed with the first episode. But you’re right, it has only been one episode, and hopefully we’ll see better story angles develop.

I also thought Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship a bit odd. When they first moved to the US (and stood in front of the A/C unit together), she had said she wasn’t ready to fully embrace their couple status yet. The way she continues to act, despite having two kids, seems somewhat out of place (read: contrived) given Philip’s cheery nature.

As for the show focusing on their family life, the only show that I can think of off the top of my head is Modern Family, but that’d be a totally strange mix for a show like The Americans, even though I love Modern Family. 

My thoughts on what’s coming: Stan will inevitably find another reason to go snooping in the Jennings’ garage, after another strange and contrived encounter. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Elizabeth and Philip get trailed by other covert KGB officers, particularly after Elizabeth’s latest conversation with the general. Sure, she may have convinced him that Philip’s okay this round, but Philip’s bound to have another “America’s not so bad” moment that’ll just piss Elizabeth off.

I also feel like we might see something happen between the Jennings’ daughter and Stan’s son. The way they looked at each other when their families met seemed like too obvious an opening for a developing relationship. After that brief focus on how they looked at each other in the episode, I’d almost be disappointed if they don’t get together (and create a strange tension within the Jennings’ household that will trigger red flags in Stan’s household), but that right there is exactly why I’m disappointed in this show. The story seem too obvious and simple. Or it may just turn out to be another odd tangent like the child predator dude.

Either way, I’ll be interested to see what happens in the next episode, but I can’t honestly say I’m excited to watch it. I’ve actually developed more of a liking to other new shows like 1600 Penn, even though that has its own share of contrived ridiculousness too. At least, it makes me laugh for being a political comedy. The Americans just makes me laugh for being overly implausible.

 

Stop politicizing everything? As if.

Michael Moynihan seems to have woken up on the wrong side of his bed. (On Monday, that is. At 4:45 AM EST, when his article was posted. So maybe he didn’t sleep at all.) In a rambling complaint about people who complain about movies and TV shows for various reasons, Moynihan wrote:

There is a simple lesson in all of this: if you are trawling for readers, they can be reliably attracted by accusing films and televisions shows (Argo, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, Girls, The Daily Show, American Idol, The Muppets, Homeland, The Help—a depressingly long list) of encouraging torture, war, anti-capitalism, Islamophobia, sexism, and racism. An accusation precipitates a flurry of tweets and blog posts (“I can weigh in on this; I’ve seen that movie!”) followed immediately by mainstream-media reports on the roiling “controversy.” Everyone gets provocative headlines; everyone gets page views; everyone leaves unsatisfied.

Despite a column headline that name-checks Django Unchained but then fails to mention the movie anywhere other than in the above-quoted parenthetical, and despite the fact that this very same parenthetical — consisting of a litany of film and TV titles that mostly go unmentioned for the remainder of the article — quite conveniently doubles as SEO-bait itself, the only real common thread uniting commentary on Lena Dunham’s Girls and Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is that both are well-publicized pieces of entertainment whose content inspires both slavish devotion and vehement disgust.

In other words, they’re popular. Other than that, there’s not much of a similarity, despite Moynihan’s increasingly strained attempts to prove the contrary. The primary critique of Girls, to which Moynihan devotes a significant portion of his article, relates to the series’ unapologetically white, bourgeois sensibilities — with plenty of twentysomething angst and daddy’s-girl entitlement syndrome to go around.

Like Moynihan, I find some of the more common criticisms of Girls to be repetitive and uninspired (a characterization, incidentally, I’d apply in good measure to the show itself). The cries of “where are the black girls?” sound a lot like “concern trolling” to my male Caucasian ears, but then…exactly. Who knows? As I see it, it’s Lena Dunham’s show, it’s Lena Dunham’s friends, and if they all happen to be white, well…it’s probably because that’s a pretty realistic portrayal of how middle- to upper-class cliques work in real life.

They’re also caricatures of whiny, self-absorbed, only-child, Upper East Side self-actualizers whose endless navel-gazing manages to stir just enough stale air to create a mildly entertaining storyline with enough awkward sex to compile a “Best Of” YouTube hit by now. In other words, if you’re going to ask about the racial component, you’ve got to start asking about everyone else the show is ignoring too. Which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much all of us.

Zero Dark Thirty — which, I must here disclaim, I have not watched — is something very different. And that Moynihan can’t distinguish between the two types of critiques is worrying. The film’s detractors are not, as his headline declares, “politicizing everything.” It’s simply mind-boggling to me how a movie that depicts a narrative beginning on September 11th and more or less ending with Osama bin Laden’s capture, interspersed with generous helpings of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and other such light-hearted curiosities, could ever not be political.

In fact, Moynihan’s frustration brings to mind that of the Second Amendmentists, those last remaining bastions of valor in the face of government tyranny, who — with the onset of each successive mass shooting: oh look, there’s another, and oh look, cue the gun rights violins at the Newtown hearings — unironically proclaim that gun control advocates are politicizing a tragedy.

Well, torture, too, is a tragedy. It is a tragedy on a small scale, in that it doesn’t work. But it is also a tragedy on a large scale, because it is a betrayal of values that rise above temporal considerations, like efficacy and practicality, and that represent the core of a society’s priorities. This is precisely why Zero Dark Thirty is, for many, a film worth complaining about. For all the caterwauling over Lena Dunham’s Girls, the show is ultimately a reflection of the creative energies of one particularly privileged 26-year-old. (And, by the way, my callous dismissal of both the show and its critics can itself be justifiably subjected to rebuttal on political grounds.) Zero Dark Thirty is a film that, as has been well-documented, was marketed as quasi-journalistic while its director simultaneously fended off accusations of inaccuracy by insisting that a portrayal of torture is not equivalent to endorsement. (Never mind that the portrayal itself did not comport with reality.)

Moynihan makes passing reference to the utter incoherence of his comparison:

The politicization of Zero Dark Thirty is understandable; it deals with a controversial policy furiously debated during the Bush presidency, after all. But a work of art needn’t be expressly political for the critic to bemoan its political failings.

What does it mean to not be “expressly political?” Is it not precisely into these subjectively-defined political vacuums that some of the most sinister ideologies calmly began their gestation? To get the inevitable Nazi reference out of the way, it’s not as if Hitler’s campaign against the Jews began at Auschwitz. Many unthinkable crimes spawned from the seeds of a seemingly benign origin. But if we are to take Moynihan at his word — and, I presume, to accept his necessarily arbitrary line separating “expressly political” works of art from all the rest — how will we then guard against the gradual incursion of bad ideas into our culture?

The short answer is: we can’t. But if the vitriol surrounding Bigelow’s movie is “understandable,” why bring it up at all as an example of the politicization of pop culture? Why, especially, bring it up as a supporting argument for the overemphasis on racism in our movies and TV shows? And, lastly, why compare the critiques of this film to those radically different ones of Girls?

Moynihan’s contempt for both brands of the pop culture commentariat is palpable: “And on it goes, with countless writers, most not long out of college, on the hunt for smelly little heterodoxies, demanding that art be deployed in the service of the people.” But it is his own nonchalance that allows previous political taboos to enter the mainstream. It’s too late to stop politicizing everything. But it’s even worse to sit out the debate.

“The Choice” to stay: Sam Lim and I discuss the season finale of Homeland

carriesaulSam Lim: Where do we even start with the finale? Boy. Let me first say that it met — and exceeded — my expectations (not by a lot but enough). The beginning dragged out the way I expected a Carrie-Brody escapade into the woods would, even with Quinn right behind them (since they didn’t know). The fact that Quinn did not take out Brody and his subsequent reasoning (as explained to Estes…more on that in a minute) did not surprise me in the least; I expected that as much.

Before I make fun of Estes (again), I do think the conversations Carrie and Brody had in the cabin were really rather poignant. Here you have two very battered (physically and emotionally) individuals, and it’s like they can only be themselves and (almost) completely honest with each other. I say “almost” because Carrie — for all her ridiculousness — still has a shred of doubt about Brody (you see that look on her face after Brody found the gun? It was like a “Hehe. Let’s not play with guns now, dear” type of look), though he seemed to win her over fairly easily as always.

Now, as for Estes, gosh, what a tool. Everything always has to be about him. The sad part is there are real people just like him in real life. I suppose it’s part of what makes Quinn’s line to him somewhat schadenfreude-inducing: “I’m a guy who kills bad guys.”

The episode doesn’t really take off (action-wise), though, until Walden’s funeral, I thought. I particularly enjoyed the great ironies of Brody’s encounters at the funeral. First, he is greeted by Walden’s grieving widow, who is completely oblivious to the fact that the guy who basically murdered her husband is escorting her to her seat. Then there’s his handshake with Estes, completely unaware that the man had a hit out on him until less than a day before. I have to say…I chuckled.

Let’s talk plot flaws real fast, since they’re my favorite. Isn’t it sort of conspicuous when both Carrie and Brody leave the funeral early? And am I being too cynical to think it strange that the CIA building is absolutely deserted except for where the funeral is taking place (sure, Walden has deep ties to the CIA and the funeral might be on a weekend, but still, it’s the CIA!)? Carrie and Brody (both, again, with bright yellow visitor badges) just waltzed right into Saul’s empty office and probably would’ve engaged in a bit of inappropriate behavior in another man’s office had Brody not spotted his car. Speaking of which… Continue reading

Our long national nightmare is (almost) over

The New York Times reports on the impending conclusion of MTV’s notorious TV series Jersey Shore on December 20:

Incredibly it was only three years ago that MTV ran its first episode of “Jersey Shore,” its documentary-style account of four muscle-bound guys and four impossibly orange women partying down and hooking up in Seaside Heights, N.J.

Over six rapid-fire seasons, including excursions to Miami and Florence, Italy, “Jersey Shore” became one of MTV’s biggest hits ever, drawing nearly nine million viewers an episode at its peak and introducing terms like “smooshing” and the gym-tanning-laundry shortcut “G.T.L.” (among less savory acronyms) to the American lexicon.

The series has also elevated its distinctively monikered cast members like Michael Sorrentino (a k a the Situation), Jenni Farley (JWoww) and Paul DelVecchio (Pauly D), making them the envy of unemployed milliennials, the scorn of Italian-American advocacy groups and unlikely ambassadors of their hurricane-devastated coastal escape.

But now these improbable celebrities are bracing themselves for a different kind of reality, when the parties and press tours — and the cornerstone TV show that supported them — go away, leaving viewers to take stock of why they tuned in, and its subjects to wonder if their fame could fade as rapidly as it arrived.

“We were regular people a couple years ago,” said Vinny Guadagnino, a “Jersey Shore” star. “I don’t want it to stop.”

I do.

“In Memoriam” to a once-stellar series? Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 11 of Homeland

carrie Jay Pinho: OK, so here goes…

I have to be honest: this was probably my least favorite episode of Homeland this season. There are way too many flaws to remember off the top of my head, but here are a few of my initial complaints:

1) If there’s one scene that embodies all the problems raised by this episode, it’s the one where Carrie finds the secret passageway in the tunnels and her companion improbably moves in alone without even bothering to inform his colleagues right away, never mind wait for backup. That moment was so single-handedly ridiculous I couldn’t believe it was actually happening while I was watching it — it played off every horror movie cliche, and the fact that he was killed was just about the most predictable TV death in recent history. Not a good look for Homeland. On the bright side, it did lead to my favorite online comment of the year (which can be seen below Alan Sepinwall’s typically spot-on review):

I was totally with it until Carrie did the job of like a hundred SWAT teams and then out-muscled Abu Nazir immediately after he’d slit the throat of a large man. Might I add that Carrie weighs like 90 pounds, hadn’t slept in two days and has a diet that consists of Chinese takeout, her father’s sandwiches and vegetarian lasagna. Oh, and she’d been in a car wreck less than two days ago. That was really the best they could think of? I hope the writers do some serious soul-searching before season 3 starts.

2) Again, Saul’s naiveté is quickly morphing into “unbelievably stupid” territory. If he really does believe that Estes and Quinn are plotting Brody’s assassination — as we know is the case — then would he really bring all this up publicly, again and again, revealing how much he knows and thereby endangering himself? That scene with the polygraph test — while showing off, once again, Mandy Patinkin’s incredible acting — was just not credible: what does Saul get out of openly accusing Estes of running an off-the-books black ops plan to kill Brody? Saul’s a veteran spy; in no universe does his insistence on getting himself into deeper trouble make any sense.

One last note re Saul: I really did like the way he completely disappeared from the storyline for the remainder of the episode after his scene with Estes. It was a good matching of form to content, as in: what would the show look like without Saul? Obviously, he’s not actually going to disappear — at least, not like that — but it was interesting to see that the CIA accomplished the single greatest goal Saul and Carrie had been working toward (getting Abu Nazir), and yet Saul was portrayed as a complete sideshow to it by the end of the episode. It was as if Estes’ plan to isolate him were already being enacted. If Estes and Saul somehow both survive the season finale next week, I really hope the show never finagles some twisted way to get them back in each other’s good graces again. In my opinion, the Saul-Estes relationship has passed a point of no return: there’s just too much mutual suspicion for them to ever go back to the way they were, so I hope the show never tries that. Continue reading

Going crazy over Homeland

brody

New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who’s come up with an elaborate theory about the latest episode of the Showtime series Homeland (warning: spoilers below), worries that she’s turning into Carrie Mathison:

Yet I couldn’t help getting drawn in, because after some consideration, I found that I’d stumbled upon a solution—which is to say I developed a completely insane theory that explains everything. I am also prepared to defend my crazy theory at all costs, because this show is turning me into Carrie Mathison. Enough preamble. The theory is this: Nicholas Brody is faking it. He plotted with Abu Nazir to have Carrie kidnapped, so that Brody could “save” her, thus ensuring her loyalty and manipulating her into concealing their crimes (which she did, after all: she didn’t tell her bosses about the scheme to kill the Vice-President.) All that face-acting Damian Lewis was doing, with the yelling and the screaming into Skype—a notable departure from the subtlety of Lewis’s earlier performance? He knew Carrie was listening. It was an act.

Carrie Mathison is clearly in love with Brody. Brody has feelings for her, too, but he’s still capable of manipulating her (which is the same thing she’s doing to him, after all, in the name of the C.I.A.—calming him down with sex, holding his hand to reassure him.) When Nazir kidnapped Brody, during that mysterious prayer confab a few weeks back, the two came up with a plan. I’m not sure what that plan is, beyond killing the Vice-President, but it seems to involve messing with Carrie’s head—even more than she’s already been messed with.

When you think about it, my theory explains much that felt strange about “Broken Hearts.” It explains why Brody was going so over-the-top bonkers. It explains why Nazir didn’t walk away with his cell phone, to explain the pacemaker plan out of earshot of the C.I.A. operative he’d kidnapped. My theory also explains why Nazir was so willing to let Carrie go, even before Brody had given him the code: they’d scripted that element, to make it clear that Brody was motivated by love. The twist would match up perfectly with the show’s thematic fascination with behavior as performance, which goes back to Season One, when Carrie watched Brody strip and suffer on her monitors as if he were some especially juicy episode of Real World: The Patriot Act.

“Broken Hearts” on Homeland: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 10

Episode 210Last night’s episode of Homeland was crazier than ever, in both good ways and bad. As fellow obsessives of the Showtime series, First Casualty contributor Sam Lim and I usually follow up each weekly episode with a series of frantic emails back and forth to digest what just happened in the preceding hour. This time, I decided (with Sam’s permission) to put (a slightly edited version of) them up on the blog, which we’ll be doing for the last two episodes of Season 2 as well. Without further comment…

Sam Lim: Where to start with this week’s episode…did NOT see Carrie getting abducted by Abu Nazir. Smashing a car in public and then dragging away a woman seems like it’d garner a lot more attention than it did, no? And where the heck did Abu Nazir have time to find an abandoned mill on his own?

Jay Pinho: Damn! Wow…another veryyy twisty episode. Here are a couple random thoughts:

1) Homeland keeps surprising me. Every time I think I’ve figured out where it’s going to go next, it seems to anticipate what that is and goes in another direction instead. Case in point: Carrie getting captured. Like you said, that was completely out of the blue. I expected the rest of the season to have a storyline involving Carrie finding out about the plan to assassinate Brody, and trying to warn him. Actually, that might still happen, but if so, the show is taking a really interesting/circuitous route to get there. Continue reading

The problems with Skyfall

Eric Alterman was nonplussed about the latest James Bond film, Skyfall:

Things that are too stupid about “Skyfall” to accept, though it does not make it impossible to enjoy the movie:

1) It is based on a total absurdity: No intelligence would ever (or even could) compile such a list.

2) There is never any explanation given for the existence of said list.

3) When Bond “dies” in the beginning and then ends up on that beach, well, what? How did that happen? Again, no explanation.

I don’t mind absurdities within the movies. I do mind a) the plot being based on one and b) them not bothering to try to explain them.

Things that are silly but okay, because this is Bond: Everybody in the movie has hundreds of chances to kill everybody else. They prefer to describe how they are about to kill them instead. That’s standard fare in all bad guy movies.