In Treatment

Amy (Laura Dern) and Levi (Luke Wilson) survey Levi’s stash house (above).

We were very happy to see Bored to Death return for a 3rd season, and happier still to see it paired with a new show on Monday night, making for the only non Sunday HBO original programming since our beloved In Treatment went black.  HBO, having had to recognize the strides made by Showtime on Mondays, especially with heroine themed dramedies Tara and The Big C, seemed to go that route, tapping Laura Dern to co-create and star in Enlightened.

The Monday schedule however, even with a staple like BTD, hasn’t really gotten rolling.  We were not surprised when we heard that Enlightened was on the renewal bubble for a 2nd season, even though HBO usually announces renewals very early on when they are behind a show.  BTD has not been the lights out comedy hijinx we have come to know from it which could be part of the reason, along with a non traditional night, for Enlightened’s lukewarm and so far unimpressive numbers.  BTD, 1 of our favorites because of both the Brooklyn n the bud, has been a weaker strain this year, and the beauty of the show, the magical ensemble of the Jason Schwartzman-Zach Galafianakis-Ted Danson triumvirate seems more trite and forced this season.  The show has picked up in recent weeks with Jonathan’s visit to The Dick Cavett show, and was at its best all season Monday when Ray’s already complex love life took a bisexual turn.  The show has drawn on perhaps its all-time best moment, when Jonathan was made to snuggle in bed with his girlfriend’s boyfriend, the signature moment of last season.

We were of course glad to see Sarah Silverman on BTD in the role of friends counseling therapist and thought her funny, though her face has seen better days (sorry Sarah).  Hopefully she gets some more run in the role.  And hopefully the show gets back to basics.  In this case, that would be the bud.  We also understand Enlightened’s problems.  Truth be told, episodes 1 and 2 were very underwhelming.  We sat there waiting for things to happen that never did.  HBO’s audience, frankly, must not be used to the pace of this show, which is very slow.  HBO’s half hour format is usually sensory overload–so many sights (Entourage), so many jokes (Curb, Flight), so much drama (In Treatment).

Enlightened is practically no jokes, hardly any likable characters, and very slow plot machinations. Dern plays a woman fresh off a nervous breakdown and a stint at a mental health facility, who is grating, forcefully repetitive, and who seems to have none of the LA sensibilities or standard sensibilities of the others in her life, which upon further review, don’t seem so sensible, except for Levi (Luke Wilson), who takes drugs so he “doesn’t have to think all the time”.

Dern’s Amy Jellicoe has a mother (Diane Ladd) who is at best disinterested with her and at worst scared of her.  And she lives with her.  How depressing  and yet common is that?  She has an old set of coworkers she thought were friends who are obviously not and a new set of coworkers, a motley crew of company rejects stuck in the basement like her.  One of those coworkers is Jason Mantzoukas, our beloved Tim’s bad boy Dr. (“did you take a hurty poopy?”), who also plays Ruxin’s (Nick Kroll, also of Tim fame) hilariously inappropriate brother-in-law Raffi on The League (when sandwich dancing on the outside of a stripper in Vegas: “He has a lot of money and I have huge dick.  Let’s do this!”)  It would be difficult to make Mantzoukas not funny. Yet Enlightened practically has.

This is probably the most realistic show on HBO’s airwaves right now, the antithesis of shows like Entourage and How to Make It in America that always seem to end on a high note, in fantastical pastry puff worlds.  Enlightened would probably be the karmatic balance of Entourage for HBO.  If there’s any escape at all for the viewer, it could be that our lives are actually better than theirs.  Dern has a meaningless job and only the shell of her former career as some sort of corporate buyer.  She has only pretend friends who are pained at the sight of her.  She is abrasive and over zealous and a lot of the time you say ‘I can’t even like her.’  She forces her unrealistic therapy inspired ideas on the wrong people at the wrong times and places, and she clutches her new found belief system for dear life, as some in recovery tend to do.  You just wanna tell her to save it, not only because the ideas might be bad, but because the people around her are so filled with apathy.

Amy gets every flat tire, is caught in every rainstorm–figurative and literal–and has already chucked her self help bible in the trash.  So far though, she has treated every day like a new day, and she is back each morning at her toil anew.  So far.  We think that’s the point of it all.  Life in general.  Bad jobs and few real friends and inadequate partners and family members.  Bad cars and bad bosses and living arrangements in places where you can walk 10 miles without once encountering a soul that gets you.

But you have to keep going.  Should she stumble, foreshadowed by flashbacks of binge drinking and Levi’s ‘Mexican pharmacy’ it would only indicate that Amy is even more like us than we care to admit, annoying personality ticks and all.

This is a very smart show.  It’s one you may never enjoy, at least not in the usual sense.  Get into the misery.  If you give it a long enough look, a satori might be your eventual reward.

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While we were glad to see a sorely missed Entourage return to the Sunday night HBO airwaves and re-enter the fray of stiff programming competition that always seems to make Sunday nights so strong, we’ve been vastly underwhelmed with the storylines so far, and the curious jumping in point for this season–Vince’s return from rehab.  In fact, all of the characters except Drama (Kevin Dillon) and Ari (Jeremy Piven) have come in at weird places when considering what could have been. 

We are very displeased at how Doug Elin and company have glommed over Vince’s (Adrian Grenier) arrest, Eric’s (Kevin Connolly) breakup with Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara…Brooklyn holler!) and his adventures in his new Tequila venture.  As far as Turtle goes, in the past two seasons he was finally given more to work with than his loyal but stagnant pot smoking lackey, and in an end eerily familiar to season six’s, the writers have chosen to make him all about some annoying Mexican chick who won’t call him back.  So far.  But we think, with Mark Cuban and his business manager, played by one of our favorites, Bob Odenkirk, getting involved as investors in Avion that Turtle could be doing much more right now than waiting by the phone for Alex to call. 

As far as E goes, he had come to a very compelling time in his relationship with the ultra hot Sloan, refusing to sign a pre-nup as we knew the stubborn E would.  But for the show to just pick up 3 months later with him and Sloane separated and little to no information given aside from the unsigned pre-nup that we know about it, strikes us as lazy writing.  Are they attempting to tell us their story with some out of sequence method?  If so, we would think that to be untrue to Entourage’s established style of story telling which has evolved in the last four seasons to make it one of the premiere shows on television.

The show, in our minds, had gotten out of the box originally as a sluggish male themed rip of Sex and the City, with a Hollywood, celebrity cameo laiden twist.  And then, when Vince began to go through some of the downs of the Hollywood movie star life, and the lives of Drama, E, and Ari were featured more prominently, the show became a much more interesting, layered, and gritty product.  In truth, we had totally given up on Entourage but felt we had to give it another shot because of the dearth of quality television in general and on HBO in specific at that time.  We were glad that we did give it another shot because Entourage had found a nice rhythm which it carried on, especially in depicting the rockier moments in Vincent Chase’s life.  Until now. 

To go from depicting Ari’s marital catastrophes to the hollow Mrs. Ari/Bobby Flay nonsense, to skip out on Vince’s troubles with the law and make his rehab seem like a vacation, and to gloss over formative moments for Turtle and E for what feels like the same old Sloan and Meadow Soprano nonsense are all bad shortcuts.  Do they feel that because they have shown enough of Ari’s agency in its various stages of growth and development, that they were doing us a favor by not showing how Scott Lavin (Scott Caan) can walk up to E and tell him that he was taking down Murray, their boss and Sloan’s god father, and E telling Scott he was in, to 3 months later and the takeover mysteriously completed without nary a word as to how?

And we love Scott Caan on Entourage and feel that the takeover could have been well interwined with Eric’s personal life, where they have also left us in the dark.  Back to Vince’s rehab for a second.  Would it be wrong for us to assume Vince will slip up and relapse like just about every other person who has ever been to rehab?  Because if that’s the case, then doing more than showing Vince giving his goodbye to crackheads speech would have been appropriate, and if it’s not the case, then showing some of the travails his brush with the law and addiction had taught him would go far in making a permanently clean Vince more believable.

It’s always hard to see a favorite show come up short.  We were extremely disappointed to learn that Entourage was not returning on the same night as Curb Your Enthusiasm, and even more upset to learn that Entourage was only back for a slate of eight episodes in its final HBO season.  But then, with the news that Scott Caan and Rhys Coiro (Billy Walsh) would be regulars and that another of our favorites, Andrew Dice Clay, had joined the cast as himself, we pencilled Entourage in to go out with a bang.

But the fact is, Sunday night, led by Breaking Bad, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Celebrity Rehab, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, are all already pencilled in as better shows right now.  Entourage’s lack of oomph has dulled our limited faith in humanity, making us think that the big screen version, already being touted by Elin will be nothing but a stale money grab which won’t even measure up to Sex and the City 2

Our criticism of Entourage can be extended out to HBO’s original programming in general.  Their 2 best newer comedies which were ready for both of the last 2 summers, Hung and Bored to Death are not ready for action.  True Blood is awful and has been for 2 years.  No word on season 3 of The Life and Times of Tim, or season 4 of In Treatment.  If not for Curb, which took its sweet time coming back, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones, we’d have nothing good to say about HBO compared to its glory days, which now see well removed.  And the latter three dramas, while all good, are nowhere near the level of The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood.

And to pass on Mad Men and Breaking Bad?  With decisions like that, and weak reprisals like the current season of Entourage, people might soon be passing on HBO.  I mean, we can only stare at Islanders t-shirts and screen savers as long as the show is good.

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Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) and Holly Flax (Amy Ryan).

Is it just us, or do you also look forward to the thought of Angela’s (Angela Kinsey) Christmas themed cat cards, Andrew Bernard (Ed Helms) a-caroling, and the dubious Todd Packer (David Koechner) and his drunken escapades?  If so, tonight’s our night with The Office’s special Christmas episode, “Classy Christmas”, on tap. 

While we may not have loved the acting performance Amy Ryan just turned in as Dr. Paul Weston’s (Gabriel Byrne) therapist on HBO’s superb 3rd season of In Treatment, just concluded, it’s hard to argue against Ryan reprising the role of quirky HR person Holly Flax, who, in 7 seasons of The Office, may have been the only cast member truly on the same wavelength of wacky Michael Scott.  We’ve read that Holly returns to the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin tonight to fill in for Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein), who is called away.

Michael is sure to go nuts over Holly’s return to Scranton from Nashua, as he’s only been pining for her from the second she left.  But how will Holly react to Michael, in light of her ongoing serious relationship with a Nashua branch salesman (last we knew), and in light of Michael’s rambling voice mail to Holly that we heard him record earlier in the season on which he insisted that he and Holly had been good together, that she was the only ex whom he had any good will toward and vice versa, and oh yeah–how she’d better head to a doctor and get checked for herpes?

Amy Ryan, who first came to us as port police on season 2 (“Nicky from the docks”) of our favorite all-time show, The Wire, who had, let’s call it an uncomfortable run on In Treatment, is sure to be back in her element once again in a large ensemble cast.  And we always love Dwight in elf ears.  Since The Office won’t be back after tonight until January 20th, we’re hoping tonight’s “Classy Christmas” is extra good.

Tonight @ 9 PM EST on NBC.  Happy holidays.

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9 PM EST & 9:30 PM EST, HBO…

I hope my fledgling following appreciates this, for tonight I come to you from a new, makeshift computer station, as everything here was thrown for a loop due to severe flooding.  We’ve had constant, heavy rains and winds for 3 straight days, the telephone lines are down, but it could be worse.  Most of my neighbors haven’t had any power in almost 36 hours.

Time to credit HBO for not cashing out when they have a good thing going.  I was very upset when two of the better dramas of the past decade were cut short by HBO: Carnivale and Deadwood, after only 2, and 3 seasons, respectively.  I had previously mentioned that I was upset over what appeared to be HBO abondoning the very moving and well done In Treatment, starring Gabriel Byrne, and Flight of the Conchords, starring Jemaine Clement and Brett McKenzie, and featuring the impressively funny Kristen Schaal, Arj Barker, and Rhys Darby.

Much ado about nothing, it would turn out.  In Treatment has been renewed, Gabriel Byrne has signed on to reprise his role as therapist Paul Weston, and the creators/writers of the short lived HBO series Tell Me You Love Me have been brought in to write season 3.  The writing was a major point of contention for the 3rd season because HBO had exhausted all the episodes that were already written for Be Tipul, which was the Israeli version of the show, adapted for HBO’s In Treatment, a gem unearthed by Mark Wahlberg’s production company, Closest to the Hole, which has also given us the hit Entourage.  In Treatment is such a unique show because it airs 5 new episodes each week, usually running an 8-9 week season, thereby giving the audience way more bang for its buck, and many more first run episodes than any other scripted television show, on network or cable TV.  The workload was also a point of contention, as Gabriel Byrne is never off camera (Byrne’s Paul Weston is either working with patients or seeing his own therapist in each episode, and has described the role as tiring and demanding.).

Thankfully HBO had the good sense to properly compensate Byrne and to bring back this unique and incredibly intense program.

I always watch HBO promos very closely.  I have a friend in film who worked on Oz and who nearly worked on The Sopranos, and who knows HBO’s M.O. very well.  He told me that once HBO discontinues a show, they no longer include any clips of the actors from that show in their promos, because then they have to pay those actors.  So seeing Gabriel Byrne’s face in a lead in promo last week was very fulfilling.

“When I look around the room, I can tell that you, are the most beautiful girl…in the…room.  And when I’m on the street, depending on the street, you are definitely in the top three good looking girls on the street.  Depending on the street.  And when I seen you at my man’s place, I said, ‘what…is…she…doing…at my man’s place?”–“The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” by Flight of the Conchords.

 Above is just one sample from one of the Conchords quirky melodies that has been featured in an episode (episode 1) and that has gotten the Conchords international fame, and which has put them on the road to international television and radio stardom.  In addition to the very successful Flight, Jemaine and Brett had a very successful folk/comedy tour throughout the United States last year, and have recently put out another folk/comedy album.

HBO recently anounced that they have greenlit a third season, and that they are ready to go into production whenever The Conchords give the word.  In addition to the show being near and dear to my heart because of its own merits, I also hold it close because it is a local geographic triumph.  It is filmed in Brooklyn (holler!), Manhattan, and Queens, and a very memorable scene was shot at the site of the giant World’s Fair Globe, right outside the National Tennis Center (home of the U.S. Open and the U.S. national developmental program).  A picture of that  globe on a U.S. Open night happens to be the exterior wallpaper on my cell phone.

The Conchords are not limited musically or comedically.  Their songs have ranged from Parisian parodies, to David Bowie encomiums, to dance and even rap music.  Their rap personas, the Hiphipopotamus and the Rhymenoceros, came to life to provide a very interesting rap about The Lord of the Rings (the Conchords hail from New Zealand, and made it there before making it in London, and then here, on HBO) and also, an instant classic in a season 1 episode called “Mugged.”

“Other rappers diss me, say my rhymes are sissy.  Why?  Why?  Why exactly?  Be more constructive with your feedback please!  Is it because I rhyme about reality?  Like me and my grandma having a cup of tea?  There aint no party like my nanna’s tea party.  Hey!  Ho!”

We may have to wait a while for season 3 of Flight and for more of their interesting styles, but the wait should be shorter for the new season of In Treatment, which will come to air in 2010. 

In keeping with my keeping you up to date on the Paribas Open at Indian Wells, it was a shame to see Maria Sharapova, a graceful champion still not right after a bad shoulder injury, struggle so mightily in losing to Jie Zheng.  Sam Querrey, a promising American, looked good in his match and has a very interesting encounter lined up in the next round with another promising American, John Isner.  At the moment, Roger Federer trails in the 2nd set after winning the first in his first tournament action since his straight sets victory over Andy Murray at the Australian Open, giving him his record 16th major title.  And more kudos to James Blake, who just took the first set in style from David Ferrer, 6-1.

And like I said, HBO is back!  Who’s the mother-flipping?