The Inbetweeners

images via e4.com

A friend of mine recently recommended a British comedy series called The Inbetweeners. I had never heard of it, but found that the first two seasons were available on Netflix to stream instantly.  Each episode is less than half an hour long, and each season was six episodes, so in one lazy weekend I was able to watch both seasons.

The show revolves around the daily lives and mishaps of four awkward teenage boys and their attempts to co-exist with the popular crowd, the bullies, their exasperatingly caring parents, and the most confounding group in their world – girls. As well as finding themselves between social strata, they’re also no longer little boys, but not quite men – hence the title of the show (I assume). The group of four consists of a cautious nerd (Will), an endearing idiot (Neil), a pathologically lying know-it-all (Jay), and an average Joe (Simon).

I found it to be extremely well written, and perfectly cast. It is raunchy, cringe-inducing, and often hysterical, and the chemistry between the four boys is realistic and at times adorable. It’s like The Wonder Years, but far more obscene. As with other successful shows featuring foursomes (Seinfeld, I Love LucyThe Golden Girls, Sex and the City), there’s a character for every viewer.

I’m looking forward to watching the third season, as well as an accompanying full-length feature film that was released in the UK last year.

MTV has produced an American version of this show (which makes sense because the language and situations in the original would never be allowed to air on any basic network here) that will premiere in August, but I saw a trailer for it and it looks awful. The acting is not as good, the script seems to be a watered-down version of the original, and it looks all-around cheesier. I also read recently that an American studio is re-doing the movie, which makes no sense at all, and will probably also be terrible.

The Killing vs. Homeland: A comparison of two first seasons

Even though the second season of AMC’s hit show, The Killing, has finished airing, I only recently started watching the first season. Adapted from a popular Danish series (Forbrydelsen), the show follows a homicide officer investigating the murder of a local high school girl. Over three long nights I watched all thirteen episodes, from the discovery of Rosie Larsen’s body, all the way to the unsatisfying end of the season when many questions are yet to be answered. All the while I couldn’t help comparing it to Homeland, a popular Showtime series that I caught up on after the first season had already finished airing on television.

image via AMC
Mireille Enos in AMC’s The Killing

image via Showtime
Claire Danes in Showtime’s Homeland

Similarities between the two shows:
-Leading petite female characters (Mireille Enos’ Sarah Linden and Claire Danes’ Claire Mathison) who are employed in some area of criminal investigations and who enjoy jogging and engrossing themselves in their professional work to the detriment of their personal lives
-Older male bosses who are constantly trying to talk the ladies out of risky, unprofessional tactics
-Histories of mental breakdowns
-Linking crime to the Islamic community
-Sloppy investigative work (as an ordinary citizen, I hope people aren’t this careless in real law enforcement!)

The Killing tries to stay interesting by revealing a new, seemingly important piece of evidence to the audience at the end of each episode. By the third or fourth episode, it’s clear that anything they find out at the end of the episode will get explained away by the end of the following one, and the viewer is usually only privy to details that Linden or her partner Stephen Holder also know. In contrast, Homeland‘s revelations about characters and their activities often keep the viewer a step ahead of Mathison’s investigations, and are less often red herrings. Also, in Homeland Carrie starts with a target suspect and has to work out his past crimes and prevent any future ones, whereas in The Killing, the investigators were faced with a specific crime and their main goal is to find the perpetrator.

Although The Killing angered many fans who stuck through it during the first season by not concluding the investigation, I recently found out that season two, which ended this past Sunday, does reveal the killer of Rosie Larsen. I can’t imagine how many more suspects they can round up, but at this point I have to see it through to the end.

Mad Men Season 5 Premiere

images via amctv.com

After a hiatus of almost eighteen months, AMC’s Mad Men returned on Sunday evening with a two hour Season 5 premiere. We got a sense of how much time had passed by seeing that Don and Megan are married and now live in a de-luxe apartment in the sky, Pete Campbell resides in Connecticut and has the kind of commute Don used to have when he still lived in Ossining, and Joan is on maternity leave raising an infant who everyone thinks is her husband’s while it’s really Roger’s. Business-wise, SterlingCooperDraperPryce is struggling as much as it was last season. Pete Campbell is miserable, the secretary pool is in disarray without Joan, and Don is more focused on being an attentive husband than convincing clients to use the agency’s ideas (oh, if Betty could see him now).

A surprise 40th birthday party for Don serves as an excuse to get most of the major players together in one room, and to also create booze-induced tension, as is tradition on this show. I wasn’t crazy about the cabaret performance that Megan had arranged for herself, but was glad that it at least served as material for Roger’s mocking. Call me evil, but I was hoping that Don would have cast her aside by now. We see little cracks forming in their relationship, which reminds me of Dr. Miller’s statement to Don (right after he dumped her) from last season’s finale: “I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

It’s also made clear that Megan knows all about the Dick Whitman secret. Since I’ve never trusted Megan, it seems inevitable that her knowledge of his true past will burn him in the near future. Unlike all the previous seasons, there was no lingering concern or feeling of doom in this episode about his secret coming out, so I wonder how long it is before that problem gets raised again.

Betty Francis and her husband are nowhere to be seen in the episode, only being referred to as “Morticia and Lurch” by Don when he drops the kids off after a weekend together. At the end of last season Don and Betty had found a moment of civility towards each other, but it doesn’t appear they’ve progressed much from that point. Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell have grown to be my two favorite characters on the show and I loved seeing them irritate the hell out of each other. I also got a kick out of the badger hair shaving cream brush that Don received from his kids because my father has received the same gift from me twice in the past.

Overall, I enjoyed the premiere. The show’s creators planted the seeds for quite a few story lines this season, as well as a look into a changing social climate surrounding the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards

“They must be nuts in France right now. Or whatever the French have in place of joy.”
Billy Crystal 

images via oscar.go.com

After last year’s unimpressive awards show, poorly hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, watching last night’s Oscar telecast was a treat. Billy Crystal returned for the ninth time to host and brought with him his traditional Best Picture nominee song and his opening montage, which immediately caused both outrage and confusion by the appearance of his Sammy Davis, Jr. character. If anything, I thought Justin Beiber was the one out of place. Crystal’s jokes throughout the night were often funny, though not risky (bar the aforementioned Davis bit).

Highlights of the show included a wonderful Cirque de Soleil performance that exemplified a great movie-going experience and Chris Rock presenting an award for animation, but not before he pointed out that being a voice in an animated film is the easiest job out there that pays a million dollars. Best was the “rare footage” video made by Christopher Guest and his reliable stable of actors (Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, and Eugene Levy) depicting a focus group from 1939 who had watched The Wizard of Oz and didn’t care for it. Willard’s character at least appreciated some of it, saying, “I didn’t like it ’till they got to the flying monkeys”.

JLo and Cameron Diaz, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey, Jr., all tried to be funny but failed. Also, what was up with Angelina Jolie and her awkward diva pose when she presented the writing awards? Was the guy who won as part of the writing team for The Descendants making fun of her when he struck a similar pose on stage (mere feet from where she was standing)? If so, I now like him despite not knowing who he is.

As for the winners and their acceptance speeches, they were pretty ordinary and predictable. Christopher Plummer became the oldest recipient of any (non-honorary) Academy Award at the age of 82, which was a nice bit of history-making. Woody Allen was still not around to accept his screenwriting award for Midnight in Paris. Meryl Streep won Best Actress for a movie nobody watched (yawn). I was, however, very excited for Bret McKenzie when he won for writing a song from The Muppets, mostly because a) I love Flight of the Conchords (the duo and the series), b) I enjoyed the song when I watched the film, and c) I like Bret more than Jemaine.

I didn’t see as many of the nominated films as I could have this season because the options seemed lackluster, and I have a hunch that neither The Artist nor 2012 will stand out in film history. However, it was still comforting to see Billy Crystal again, who I can recall as the host throughout my childhood.

Honorable mentions go out to Sandra Bullock for reciting part of her presentation for Best Foreign Language Film in German after setting everyone up to think she would speak Mandarin, and the JCPenney commercials (at least on the East Coast in the United States) starring Ellen Degeneres. 

TCM: 31 Days of Oscar

image via TCM

At 6:00 AM EST on Wednesday, February 1st, Turner Classic Movies will be kicking off their 31 Days of Oscar series – a month-long event that will showcase more than 300 award winning and nominated films from years past. Last year they built the schedule around trivia categories such as “The Most Writing Nominations” and “Best Picture, But Not Most Academy Awards”. This year’s theme is Around the World with Oscar, so every day of the schedule is broken up by film locales to “take you around the world and beyond”.

I’m looking forward to watching The Wild Bunch (a Sam Peckinpah film set in Mexico), which I’ve seen many times before, as well as films I’ve never seen like The Last Metro (France) and East of Eden (California). The series will definitely eat up space on my DVR and I’ll have to put my scheduled recordings of Cheers and King of the Hill on hold for the month.

The interactive schedule and film information site is here, and the PDF schedule is here.

Also, here is an excellent promotional video from TCM.