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Rusty’s Top 10 Shows of 2016 December 13, 2016

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Welcome to my fourth annual post where I list my ten favorite television programs of the year. Usually I do this on Facebook, but I have opinions.

Disclaimers: I don’t watch everything. The list goes for all television during the calendar year, not just the strength of a show’s individual season. News-comedy (your John Olivers and Samantha Bees) not included. Also not including the OJ documentary even though it was great because it is technically a movie.

Defending Champions: Breaking Bad (2013), Fargo (2014), The Americans (2015)

Drops: Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (#9 last year), Master of None (#8 last year; did not air in 2016), Show Me a Hero (#6 last year; did not air in 2016), Fargo (#2 last year; did not air in 2016), You’re the Worst (HM last year), Bob’s Burgers (HM last year), Inside Amy Schumer (HM last year), Fresh Off the Boat (HM last year)

Honorable Mentions (all considered for top-10, in no particular order): Catastrophe (#7 last year), Jane the Virgin (playing catchup), Brooklyn 99 (HM last year), Last Man on Earth

10. The Good Place (New)

I still can’t believe that my favorite pseudonymous sports blogger turned out to be the greatest television comedy writer of my generation. Parks and Recreation is an all-timer and Brooklyn 99 remains an underrated gem. Both of those shows weren’t/aren’t exactly ratings powerhouses so it is incredible that Michael Schur/Ken Tremendous got a show this weird greenlit by NBC. It’s more interesting than lolzy right now, but I always look forward to watching it.

9. Silicon Valley (#4 last year)

Still hilarious, but a show like this is basically limited to running in place in order to generate conflict. Compare that to #4 on this list which features massive plot developments that keep the story fresh.

8. iZombie (#3 last year)

Penalized for not airing any episodes since May. It comes back in April. I can’t wait.

7. Orange is the New Black (HM last year)

Oh, hey, welcome back! I had some issues with how evil the private guards were (the baby mouse thing was way too off-tone) and the person holding the gun at the end of the cliffhanger didn’t serve the story at all. This was still the show’s best work since Season 1 as it tackled priviledgeand brutality deftly.

6. Bojack Horseman (Unranked last year; I was catching up)

The penultimate episode of the season was my second favorite “comedy” half hour of the year and featured the best vocal work I have ever heard by Kristen Schaal. The show can hit such great heights but I was disappointed that Season 3 featured the same character arc as Season 2. Bojack does something unforgivingly awful, hates himself, and has a spiritual awakening. Ok. Great. Don’t do that again in Season 4.

5. Better Call Saul (#10 last year)

The most visually pleasing show of the year and a continuation of Breaking Bad’s mastery of montage. Kim Wexler is one of my favorite characters on tv and Rhea Seehorn’s work has been award-worthy. The only thing holding this show back is that the Saul/Jimmy plot and the Mike plot are completely separated from each other and the latter isn’t really that engaging. I would be happier if Mike were completely removed from the show.

4. Veep (#5 last year)

I mentioned my second favorite comedy half hour, Veep’s penultimate was my number one. The documentary by one of tv’s greatest sad sack characters more than justified a season’s worth of background shots of Catherine shooting B-roll.

Veep also compares positively to Silicon Valley, a show that increasingly feels tied to the status quo. Veep elevated Selina to the presidency and now has her out of public office. The show has real stakes. It’s also the most realistic DC-set show and a great antidote for anyone who thinks House of Cards is anything other than awful.

3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Unranked; Catching Up)

This show feels like a magic trick. At some point it’s going to fall apart, right? At some point they’ll run out of musical genres, homages, and pastiches. At some point the characters will become too unbearable, too selfish, too flawed. Surely the show can’t fully recover from losing one of its core cast members after only one season? Who knows. Who cares.

For more, check out Vulture’s article declaring this the best show of 2015-2016.

2. American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson (New)

Coming into this, I don’t think there was a single television show or movie associated with Ryan Murphy that I considered good. Frankly, I thought he was trash. I suspect he is still trash. But he knows how to cast and he hit the absolute jackpot here.

I remembered most of the details of the case so I wasn’t surprised by the crazy plot twists that wouldn’t be believable if they didn’t actually happen in real life. I was surprised by how exciting, topical, and funny the show could be. A total success>

1. The Americans (#1 last year)

The 2015 season of The Americans, Season 3, was one of the best seasons of television I have ever seen. It’s up there with the final season of Breaking Bad, the only season of Freaks and Geeks, and Seasons 3 and 4 of The Wire. Even though Season 4 was a slight step down, The Americans remains the best thing on television.

Rusty’s Top 10 TV Shows of 2015 December 18, 2015

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Welcome to my third annual post where I list my ten favorite television programs of the year. Usually I do this on Facebook, but I had opinions.

Disclaimer: I don’t watch everything. And there are some things I watch, but I’m a year behind (Jane the Virgin and Rectify come to mind). The list goes for all television during the calendar year, not just the strength of a show’s individual season.

Defending Champions: Breaking Bad (2013) and Fargo (2014).

Drops: True Detective (#8 last year), Mad Men (#4 last year), The Good Wife (#2 last year)

Honorable Mentions (no order): Fresh Off the Boat, Orange is the New Black (#6 last year), You’re the Worst (#10 last year), Inside Amy Schumer, Last Week with John Oliver, Bob’s Burgers (#9 last year), Brooklyn 99 (#7 last year).

10. Better Call Saul – The whole season worked. Episode-by-episode it could get uneven but the penultimate episode, “Pimento,” stands up with almost anything in the Breaking Bad universe.

9. Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt – I was not a big Titus fan! And the Krakowski character felt like good microwaved leftovers. But Ellie Kemper gave the best comedic performance of the year. Think about how  crazy this plot is and how dependent it is on one actor to make it work (same compliment goes to #3 on list). Also, Jon Hamm. This was the best Jon Hamm performance of the year.

8. Master of None – As good as advertised, but maybe a little too proud of itself? As great as the deep dives into aging, the immigrant experience, and show biz racism were, I lost it any time Aziz Ansari yelled, “The Sickeninnnng!”

7. Catastrophe – I hate that there had to be an inevitable fight around the finale, because just watching two flawed, funny people go through a tough experience together was worth the price of admission. (Since it was Amazon Prime, the price of admission was basically free.) Mark Bonnar’s Scottish chain vaper was one of my favorite characters of the year.

6. Show Me a Hero – Best praise I can give is that this is very David Simony. I appreciated how this miniseries made it clear that white people who want to protect their neighborhoods and communities are dooming poor minorities to a terrible life. I also appreciated that they had a poor character breaking the rules to receive public assistance and that choice was seen as reasonable and sympathetic, and right. Really hit me in my bleeding heart.

5. Veep (#3 last year) – There was something off-putting about Selina Meyer actually being in charge. I don’t mind the incompetence and the backstabbing, but the administration’s powerlessness was such a big draw in previous seasons. They were all fighting over scraps. Now they’re fighting over the country. But, man, how good was Anna Chlumsky’s breakdown?

4. Silicon Valley – Hard to beat a billion dollar deal going down in a Mexican restaurant being interrupted by a mariachi band while your nemesis eats sushi he brought from home. I would also totally drink Three Comma Tequila.

3. iZombie – Yes. Seriously. It’s so good. It’s better than Veronica Mars and is almost as good as Peak Buffy. More shows should be about zombieism caused by energy drinks where the protagonist is a zombie working at a morgue who eats brains for sustenance but also to help solve their murders. It is consistently funny, sad, and super gross. Best zombie show on tv.

2. Fargo (#1 last year) – As much as I love iZombie, there is a huge jump in quality to the top-2 spots. Fargo is so beautiful and audacious, and unlike last year (in which I deemed them the best show on TV), they stuck the landing. I wish the literal deus ex machina was a little more subtle, but the visuals and the characters (especially Peggy and Hanzee) were fantastic. Halfway through I thought Peggy was annoying and nonsensical. By the end I wanted Kirsten Dunst to win every award out there.

1. The Americans (#3 last year) – This year The Americans skipped the overarching season-long story format that Buffy and Veronica Mars had perfected. I love Buffy and Veronica Mars, but it was a bad fit for The Americans. Two straight season finales that made the season-long plot seem ridiculous. And when your show’s hook is so outlandish, ridiculous is a bad look.

So they dumped that and became the best thing on TV. I can think of multiple moments that were better than anything else on the boob tube. The disgusting body contortionist scene, the intimate tooth removal, the long conversation about evil with an old woman who knows she is about to be killed, any scene with Philip needing to seduce a girl his daughter’s age, and, of course, the daughter reveal. That reveal was primed to be as good as Hank figuring out Heisenberg or what was in the hatch in Lost. Instead of bombast or shock, the moment was underplayed as a long but tough conversation. It was respectful to the characters and therefore respectful to the audience. This show really is the best.

Jeopardy! December 15, 2015

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So I was recently selected to appear on Jeopardy and my first episode is scheduled to air on January 21. Do not ask how I did. The worst case scenario is winning a thousand bucks and I am not going to risk a thousand bucks to satisfy your curiosity.

(Well, winning a thousand bucks after flying to LA and back and three nights at a hotel. Let’s just say the worst case scenario is grossing a thousand bucks.)

I will tell everyone what filming an episode is like. You get picked up at a local hotel at 7am, meaning East Coasters had a bit of an advantage here. 7am Pacific is 10am America.

They film five episodes a day and have two alternates there just in case. No one knows who the alternates are as all episodes are randomly drawn. There are apparently some episodes where they have locals who can drive in serve as alternates, but we didn’t have that for our taping.

We did have co-champions because of all the rescheduling around Alex Trebek’s knee surgery. I was supposed to be on a month ago, and all of my showmates were in the same boat. We also had two former alternates who were guaranteed to get on that day. One was formerly a local alternate, the other had the bad luck to be there for Matt Jackson’s huge run. That guy’s name was also Matt. Two people with the same name are not allowed on stage together.

You get there at 7:15 and fill out paperwork. For the next ten hours you’re hanging out with your competition. Our group of 12 (10 of whom were shuttled in together) were stuck in a room together for the whole time so of course we all ended up rooting for each other. That was the most surprising thing to me. When you are watching these people on stage you are rooting for them to get every answer right. You want everyone to win. There was one guy in our group that, uh, we didn’t really like. But we were rooting for him too.

(Of course, on stage, it’s the opposite. The negative vibes I sent my opponent when she got a Daily Double…)

So you get the rules explained to you and they even go over strategy. They specifically tell you to hunt for Daily Doubles if there’s less than a minute left in a round or to go after the big money clues. They ask you to shorten categories (Don’t say, “2015 In Memorium.” Say, “2015.”) so we can get to everything. They even reminded contestants that jumping around the board is fair game.

One question I got a lot is whether I was told what to study. No, they don’t tell you what categories you’re going to get. It’s random. No hints. Luck comes into play there. There was one game I didn’t take part in where I was superconfident I would have won a ton of money (and that was before no one got Final Jeopardy right). There was another game I didn’t take part in where I would have gotten destroyed. That’s what makes the Matt Jacksons, Arthur Chus, Julia Collinses, and the Ken Jenningses so impressive.

Oh, another question that comes up: The Buzzer. Is the buzzer annoying? Yes! It is! Especially at first when the defending champion has that in-game experience. They do have rehearsals with the buzzer, but it’s different when the lights are on and its Alex Trebek reading to you, ready to pounce if you do something stupid. They asked a $1,000 question about one of my favorite horror movies and someone else beat me to it. That feels TERRIBLE. It feels like your whole life has been coming to THIS MOMENT and someone else usurped it.

But… I also buzzed in when I could feel my opponents trying to do the same. That feels great. It feels like finding a $100 bill on the ground. All this money up for grabs and they gave it to me!

Another fun game thing that people don’t know is that you actually have unlimited amount of time to make a Final Jeopardy wager. So when you see someone screw that up, it’s really unforgivable. Except I screwed it up. I effed up my math twice. It’s only addition and subtraction, but under the lights, around makeup people and tech guys putting up barriers and the sound guy checking your mic and ARRRRGGGHHHH. Here’s how bad it was: I forgot how to carry the one.

(My screwup did not affect the outcome of that game which is either really good or really bad, so I don’t mind letting you know I screwed it up.)

The whole show still takes 20-30 minutes and there are other fun behind the scenes things happening. Like, does Alex Trebek ever screw up a question? Sure! All the time! He pronounced Don Juan as Don Jew-Ahn. They just rerecord him during the commercial breaks. There was one question where he said “Ireland” instead of “island.” Bad news when the answer to the question (or more accurately the question to the answer) is “Ireland.” They scrubbed it and replaced it with a different clue.

If you’re not on TV, you’re in the audience watching with everyone else. You’re actually sequestered which means no cell phones and you can’t go to the bathroom without an escort. Someone was watching me while I hit up the Sony cafeteria salad bar. I was sitting across from my fiancee, brother, and sister-in-law and we were told not to make eye contact with each other. I low-fived my brother when he came in during a rehearsal and he got in trouble.

After my run was over (SPOILER: I did not win the seven straight games necessary to make me defending champion going into the next game), I just called my family down and we left for drinks. God, did I need those drinks. Our group of 12 featured one smoker, one vaper, and four ex-smokers. Everyone wanted cigarettes. One person who had never smoked before said she wanted a cigarette. We were happy, friendly, soaking it in. But we were so nervous.

Finally, the thing I’m most interested in now is how I came off on TV. I was surprised to see our backstage alpha, the woman who was everyone’s favorite, on stage. She, in my opinion, came off as cold, quiet, and humorless. I can vouch for her. She was none of those things. The guy I didn’t like that much? He came off fine. I do know that my introduction smile was incredibly creepy. I looked at the monitors when they were doing the THIS IS…JEOPARDY! intros and what did I see? A fucking Jeopardy logo! I couldn’t see when I was supposed to smile. My family saw. They said I muffed it.

AWESOMENESS: 20

Win or lose, I was on Jeopardy. I have a very achievable bucket list. Get married to someone I love. I’m engaged. Don’t need to be rich, but need to be comfortable. When I started Lifetime, Wow! I was making less than 30K in a very expensive city. I’m a public health official now and even though I wouldn’t say no to more money, I am comfortable. Someday I want to raft the Upper Gauley river in West Virginia. It’s supposedly brutal, but I think after multiple Lower Gauley runs, I’m ready. And I’ve always wanted to be on Jeopardy. Once I got the call, I have tried avoiding the trap that my goal was winning Jeopardy. Or winning five Jeopardies to qualify for the Tournament of Champions. My goal was to be on, so, win or lose, I did it.

HEY! IT’S THAT GUY!: 2

I am giving this a couple of points because I hold myself in high regard. I don’t think my opponents are going to become super famous. I did go toe-to-toe with a veterinarian specializing in shark’s blood. That’s pretty metal.

LIFETIMENESS: 4

I am going to assume that any question my female opponents got that I didn’t know was because of their women’s intuition. Very Lifetimey. Also, more importantly, Alex Trebek may have asked me about a certain Lifetime review blog…

GRAND TOTAL: 26

Not quite as good as the best Lifetime movie, but pretty darn special to me. Please watch my first episode on January 21.

A Deadly Adoption June 22, 2015

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I am torn about this. On one hand, it’s great that two bankable A-list comedic actors can play it straight and prove that Lifetime movies are funny, wonderful things without (almost) skidding into satire or spoof. On the other hand, isn’t this all a little insulting? The meta-joke only works because the actors involved are “better” than the material. Better in terms of Q-Score? Sure. But better in terms of talent? I dunno. Mom at Sixteen may be a turd, but Mercedes Ruehl has more Oscars than every Saturday Night Live alumnus combined.

The problem here is that the goal was to recreate. And it was such a good recreation (except for two missteps) that the movie didn’t end up any better or any worse than your average Lifetime jam.

That's a pretty good tag.

That’s a pretty good tag.

The movie opens with a party being thrown by the Bensons: Financial author Robert, pregnant organic baker Sarah, and diabetic baby Sully. They’re the perfect family! And they have a beautiful Craftsman on a lake! Unfortunately, the structural integrity of their dock was decidedly not perfect. Sarah falls off the dock and hits her head. She loses the baby.

Five years later, there are cracks in their domestic bliss. Robert has given up drinking and refuses to do a book tour for his most recent book. Too many demons on the road! Robert is also overprotective of Sully, now six. Sully suffers from diabetes and Robert is constantly monitoring her sugar intake (“Chekhov’s Insulin”). He won’t even let Sully ride a bike without training wheels! No one has moved past the devastation of the miscarriage. So, obviously, it’s time to adopt.

The adoption agency introduces the Bensons to Bridget. Bridget is six months pregnant and is living in a homeless shelter. She recently dropped out of college because one of Robert’s books advised her not to accumulate too much debt. The Bensons immediately invite Bridget to live with them during the remainder of the pregnancy. According to the adoption lady (who we are about to learn is very bad at her job), this is a common arrangement.

As soon as Bridget moves in, she’s making moves on Robert. Sunbathing, come hither looks, even going so far as to HIDE SUNSCREEN so Robert will have to reach over her to retrieve it. Seduction 101. Bridget is also texting a mystery man and is seen around town by one of Sarah’s employees with a tattooed dirtbag in a vintage pickup truck. The dirtbag isn’t all terrible. He pulls Sully out of traffic when Bridget lets her ride around without training wheels.

But some secrets are too big to keep. Sully is peeping on Bridget in the shower and notices that she isn’t really pregnant. So Bridget and Dirtbag kidnap Sully and hole up in a cabin. Guess what blood sugar regulating drug they forget to bring with them!

Robert is the first to catch on that something is awry and goes rifling through Bridget’s things. He finds a copy of one his books and notices that he signed it on one of his bacchanalian book tours. And he signed Bridget. With his wang. (Bonetown.)

The Bensons call the cops and it turns out that “Bridget” killed the real pregnant Bridget. This “Bridget” is actually Jodi. And since there’s a murder, the adoption officially qualifies as deadly. That and one of Sarah’s employee recognized Dirtbag buying candy bars (their insulin replacement) and he followed him back to the cabin. He gets shot in the face for his troubles. Double deadly.

Dirtbag murdered two people so it’s hard to feel too sorry for him, but he’s getting played, too. He’s thinking they kidnapped Sully for ransom. Nope. Jodi is planning on leveraging her possession of Sully into starting a life with Robert. She rents a boat, motors down to the Bensons, and knocks out Sarah and places her in a closed garage with the car running. Robert isn’t so keen on starting that life together so she shoots him twice in the shoulder/arm. When she runs back to the cabin (“Ugh, I forgot the insulin again!”), she shoots Dirtbag in the stomach and gets ready to make a run for it.

Robert jumps in his own boat and just beats Jodi to the only bridge out of town. There’s a brief standoff, but Sully and Robert get away via the unconventional method of jumping off the bridge. Jodi aims her pistol at them but is shot in the back by Sarah.

The film’s last scene is its worst. The family gathers in the kitchen and sings together. It’s stupid. Oh, and there’s a

AWESOMENESS (out of 20): 13

There was a lot to like here. The actress who played Bridget/Jodi was fantastic. Turns out she’s from Canada. Lifetime is in her blood. The movie was funny without bringing too much attention to itself. “When we lost the baby, I went crazy. I said yes to every book tour.” “I found an unopened box of chocolates today. Come on, Sarah, you know the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis!” Very good.

Of course, like every other Lifetime movie, the film flagged in the middle and the ending took 20 minutes longer than really necessary. But, if you’re going for a recreation, it’s pretty impressive to be able to ape the structual weaknesses.

HEY! IT’S THAT GUY! (out of 10): n/a

Nope, not doing it. The idea of this movie blows the rating scale to smithereens. No points for Ferrell or Wiig. However, I was impressed that Dirtbag was reprising his role as Dirtbag in It Follows.

LIFETIMENESS (out of 20): 16

Here we go. The movie was so close to perfect. The opening credits using a boring white font over helicopter footage of Vancouverish, Canada. Scenes were slightly off-center and many shots held on for one beat too long. Dirtbag’s vintage pickup truck was the perfect detail for a Lifetime baddie. The cereal was generic off brand. People walked around with coffee cups that were obviously empty. When Sully wasn’t allowed to ride a bike, you knew the last scene would have the overprotective parent loosening up and Sully on two wheels. And I was ecstatic that there were so many boats. It’s Lifetime! There’s always a boat. But…

First, having Kristen Wiig fall off a dock after 45 seconds foreshadowing her falling off a dock was too much, especially in the first scene of the movie. I had no idea going in if they were going to play it straight, and I still didn’t know after that scene. It was goofier than almost anything else on Lifetime, and my favorite Lifetime movie features bigamy and amnesia.

Second, Ferrell and Wiig didn’t have what it takes for Lifetime. There was an undercurrent of parody in their performances, like they weren’t trying their hardest because Lifetime movies are poorly acted. But, as mentioned before, that’s a little insulting, isn’t it? The actors in those movies are trying their damnedest, but they either don’t have the talent or, more likely, it’s hard to stand out as a good actor in a low-budget tv movie factory. Ferrell actually did ok since his material was so self-serious (both of the lines of dialogue I quoted were from him), but Wiig was lost. And both SNL alums were powerhoused by a Canadian CW actress who is listed as a singer-songwriter on Facebook. If you don’t respect the Lifetime, it will chew you up and spit you out.

Finally, the last scene. Just a family dancing and singing for 45 seconds. It’s the only time they didn’t have the guts to play it straight and the entire movie suffers as a result. It was a last-stab “have it both ways” move in case the playing it straight route didn’t work. That’s a shame because the playing it straight route mostly worked!

GRAND TOTAL: 29

Pretty good! I am happy I watched it. I am happy it exists, even if it only means more people paying attention to Lifetime. And it’s nice to have my tastes cosigned by comedic actors with the chops of Ferrell and Wiig. Lifetime movies are funny not because we laugh at them, but because we laugh with them. We laugh with the twists, the accidents, and the directing choices. We laugh with the sound editing and the plot’s reliance on boating. Lifetime is great. I should watch it more often.

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax January 27, 2014

Posted by Rusty in 17-20, lizzie borden, Uncategorized.
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This movie was a bummer. A shame, since it had all the right components: Massachusetts setting, axe murders, Wednesday Addams. These are all the things that I like very much! This movie was directed right at my wheelhouse! But goodness gracious what a bore. How can you combine Wednesday Addams and axe murders and get something so vanilla?

Murder Eyes, they're watching you!

Murder Eyes, they’re watching you!

We’re in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892. You think Fall River is terrible now (spoiler: it is), imagine Fall River before they got their paws on that battleship that all the Boy Scouts visit. But Lizzie only lives an hour outside of Cape Cod, so things can’t be all bad. Lizzie is a preacher’s daughter who lives with her older sister and her stepmom. The dad is a strict skinflint (as The Good Book teaches!) which bothers Lizzie. Lizzie likes the parties and the champagnes and even has a line of credit at the old-timey dress shoppe. She is basically 19th Century Fall River’s answer to Paris Hilton. How will these two resolve their differences?

We don’t get the chance to find out (OR DO WE!?) as Pastor Borden ends up with a terminal case of the face holes. Lizzie finds the body and screams and the maid calls the police. The police are there checking for evidence when, surprise!, they find Lizzie’s stepmom in her room. The face holes were contagious! Lizze had earlier told the maid that Mom got a note saying a friend had taken ill and had left the house to meet her. No note, no leaving. That doesn’t look good for Lizzie.

Of course, no one wants to blame this meek 22-year-old girl for slaughtering her family. And with no physical evidence linking her to the crime, the police spend some time focusing on the Help.

This is a big case, so the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sends down the best prosecutor they’ve got. He immediately concludes that Lizzie Borden is guilty. How else could someone kill a woman, lie in wait in the house for 90 minutes, kill the Pastor, and then ditch all of the evidence? Lizzie’s alibi is fairly weak. She claims she was in a shed on the property clearing our a pigeon coop and eating pears. Three pears. “WHO EATS THREE PEARS IN A HOT AND DUSTY BARN!?” yells the prosecutor in what has to be one of the best sentences ever said on Lifetime. One pear is, normal, I guess. Two pairs is really pushing it. But three? Three pears? What kind of sordid hedonist eats three pairs?

Lizzie starts destroying evidence (like her dress with the mysterious blood-colored “stew” stain) which leads to her being interrogated on the stand. Lizzie prepares for her time on the stand by getting a good night’s sleep, wearing her Sunday best, and doing an ass-ton of heroin. Lizzie doesn’t do a very good job of testifying on her own behalf and gets charged with murder. Oh, also, there’s a one second shot of a bloody axe before we go to commercial.

The movie is guilty of doing tons of that shit. Weird one second shots of axes before commercial, single frames of a woman’s back, and the soundtrack. Can’t forget the soundtrack! The movie is filled with some Black Keys knockoff blues rock band in the background.* It’s atrocious. So, to be clear, the movie is guilty of being boring AND ugly AND loud.

*Someone on the Twitters pointed out that Lizzie Borden has the same soundtrack as Black Snake Moan. Don’t think that was a compliment

Lizzie is charged and then nothing of consequence happens for an hour. Lizzie’s older sister (who has an airtight alibi that doesn’t involve produce) is called to the stand. Lizzie tells Big Sis to tell the truth. Instead, she perjures herself by saying that it was her idea, not Lizzie’s, to destroy evidence. She also says Lizzie never showed signs of having a temper (cut to a flashback of Lizzie throwing a glass at her stepmom). The prosecution is getting their asses whooped, so they go to the oldest trick in the book: entering skulls in as evidence. When Lizzie sees the skulls, she faints and then BOOM another commercial.

I noticed this with Flowers in the Attic too. When did Lifetime forget how to transition into commercial breaks? There’s a “big” “plot” point or “shocking” “twist” and without getting half a second to marinate on it, I am watching a commercial for a prescription drug that helps with post-menopausal intercourse. It’s distracting.

Oh, the skulls are never mentioned again. It is never made clear how they implicated Lizzie in any way.

Lizzie is acquitted after an hour of deliberations and is free to go. She immediately jumps back on the party circuit where she is treated like a carnival act. But, hell, she likes the attention. When Big Sis calls her out for that, Lizzie tells her that she did in fact murder her family. She stripped naked, axed her stepmom, changed back into her clothes, ate three pears, waited for her dad to come home, stripped naked again, and axed her dad before changing back into her dress to “find” the bodies. THE END!

Lizzie Borden ended up becoming a spinster. She never married. No kids. Which is clearly beneficial to Lifetime since no one can sue for libel on the family’s behalf. Can you imagine if they did that to Amanda Knox? Christ. Lizzie Borden was acquitted not because she was a lady and ladies aren’t capable of murder. She was acquitted because she, most likely, DIDN’T DO IT.

Bill James, the father of advanced baseball stats, wrote a book on popular crime and spent a chapter focusing on Lizzie Borden. Conclusion: there was no way that Lizzie Borden could have been convicted of murder. Is it implausible for someone to lay in wait for 90 minutes in a house after killing someone? Yes! You know what else is implausible? “She stripped naked, axed her stepmom, changed back into her clothes, ate three pears, waited for her dad to come home, stripped naked again, and axed her dad before changing back into her dress to “find” the bodies.”

Anyways, BOOOOO. I got your back, Lizzie.

AWESOMENESS: 6

I guess some props should go out to Christina Ricci for treating the material like it wasn’t a big, fat joke. She was clearly a cut above the other actors, so, bully to her. But the rest of the movie was awful. Intrusive soundtrack, a plot that didn’t make sense (they never, ever established a motive for Lizzie murdering her family, but the movie did go out of its way to establish that half of Fall River hated the Bordens), and these stupid flourishes that are supposed to be scary, I guess. They’re just distracting.

HEY! IT’S THAT GUY!: 8

I just finished Season 2. No spoilers!

I just finished Season 2. No spoilers!

Christina Ricci will always have a place in my heart for guiding me through puberty, but she isn’t a big name anymore. What has she been in the last five years? Bucky Larson? Oh, Lizzie’s sister was played by Clea DuVall. Always nice to see her get some work.

The prosecutor was played by Hollis from Scandal. YOU WILL PAY FOR DEFIANCE, SIR!

LIFETIMENESS: 4

More lady baddies. Weird. Anyways, there wasn’t really anything Lifetimey about this movie other than plot sagging over the final hour.

GRAND TOTAL: 18

WOOF! The movie was bad and I am DISAPPOINTED. I had been looking forward to this for months. MONTHS!

What Has Kate Been Up To? July 17, 2012

Posted by Rusty in Uncategorized.
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So, as you know, this blog took a long hiatus. We were out of commission for months. I can’t speak for H$, but on my end it was just plain old laziness. And Netflix. Oh my God, guys, Downton Abbey is very good!

I will speak for Kate though. Kate was our newest addition, she did a few reviews, including my favorite, and then disappeared from the face of the Lifetime reviewing Internet.

Well, Kate has been busy. She has been in a band, The Outfits, and they just released their first record. Buy it here. Seriously, buy it. I am buying it.

Even if you don’t want to buy it, maybe give it a listen.

Kate is the girl

Without sounding too much like a lame-o, I can tell you that I am very, very proud of Kate and the other The Outfits (who I met at Kate’s wedding) and I hope they sell tons of records and make dozens of dollars and YAY FOR THE OUTFITS.

Drew Peterson: Untouchable January 30, 2012

Posted by Rusty in Uncategorized.
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Let’s start off with an admission: I did not know very much about Drew Peterson. I remember an Illinois housewife going missing and her significantly older husband being a suspect. I also remember that the husband’s previous wife died suspiciously. And that’s it. Seriously. I had no idea he had been arrested. When Lifetime announced that Rob Lowe would be playing Drew Peterson in a Lifetime movie, I got the Petersons mixed up. I thought he was playing Scott Peterson.

(Also, as an FYI, if you’re going to murder your wife, CHANGE YOUR NAME FROM PETERSON! If I was Rusty Bundy and I had a totally logical desire to kill sorority girls, I would change my fucking name first thing. That would be the first step in my nefarious plot. If your hometown has a homicidal clown problem and you’re named Gacy, people are going to look at you funny. Change that shit up.)

But then that trailer happened and suddenly this was all I could think about. I even wrote a practice post to get my head back in the game. So was the movie worth the hype?

Yes. Mostly. I daresay this is my favorite Lifetime movie based on a true story. Those are usually my least favorite, even worse than the ones about Christmas miracles. But this one rose above type and provided two hours of “OWNAGE.”

Drew Peterson: Untouchable follows the format perfected in one of the best Lifetime movies ever made: Widow on the Hill. The accused murderer is telling his/her side of the story to local media. In both movies, the format makes no sense. It’s filler. At least in Widow on the Hill the last scene of the movie is of the good guys’ turning the TV off. In Untouchable, it’s never clear when or if the interview ends. He is being interviewed and then he gets arrested? When was the interview? What?

Anyways, Drew Peterson is a psycho cop with a hilarious Chicago accent. He is very nasty to his third wife, Karen. Although, to be fair, Karen is kind of a bitch. I get that they need to make Drew Peterson somewhat likable so we can identify with Wife #4, but, uh, Karen was an abused murder victim? Has Lifetime ever portrayed an abused murder victim as such a pill?

Drew gets dispatched to a hotel where he meets a toothsome front desk lady named Stacy. There are sparks! When Stacy realizes that this humble cop is also a rich dude who owns a bar and a MOTHERFUCKING PLANE, she goes all-in and they start a sex affair. He buys her a fancy car and even sneaks her into his basement for sexxx while his wife sleeps upstairs. Smooooth.

They're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

Karen gets wind of the affair and a quickie divorce is in the works. She gets half and Drew gets to start over with a new, young, pregnant wife. A reasonable trade. But, ugh, Karen keeps being nasty! What is an ex-husband to do?

Lucky for Drew, Karen doesn’t show up to pick up their kids. Drew has a neighbor go into her house to look for her and lo and behold she is dead. Drowned in an…empty bathtub? That’s weird. Ruled an accident. Because who wants to take an extra look at community icon Drew Peterson? Other than Karen’s family. They think he did that shit.

The Petersons get a new next door neighbor and she takes a shining to Stacy. Stacy even shows her around the neighborhood, reminiscing about the times she snuck into Karen’s house while she was sleeping for quickies with Drew. Whoa. OVERSHARE. The neighbor points out that that is stone cold and Stacy is all, “oh yeah.” Now that she’s married she is starting to see the evil of Drew’s ways.

Drew gets more and more controlling as the years go by. He gives Stacy a cell phone and if she doesn’t answer by the third ring there is Hell to pay. When Stacy catches Drew going through her e-mails, she protests and tries taking the computer away from him. He shoves her into the television. The neighbor walks in on this and Stacy’s honesty is refreshing: “Drew just pushed me into the TV.” Succinct and accurate.

So Drew is totally crazy. Duh. The last straw is the death of Stacy’s sister (which really comes out of nowhere). After Stacy hugs her widowed brother-in-law, Drew accuses them of having an affair. Then he calls her a whore and a slut and tosses her around a little bit.  Stacy claims the marriage is over. Drew doesn’t get the memo. He stalks her, breaks into their home, terrorizes her. And then she disappears. Drew claims she phoned* him after finding another man and ran off. Leaving four kids behind. Right.

*I have been watching way too much The Good Wife.

So obviously Drew did that shit. The media gets involved because the local newspaper reporter remembers Drew Peterson from Karen’s death. The neighbor and Stacy’s living sister circle the wagons and put up missing person posters in their yards and generally make Drew’s life hard. Drew, for his part, is acting like a crazy person. He gets engaged to another 23-year-old, starts a dating competition on a radio show, and talks nonsense to national media like Larry King.

The “Stacy took off” story starts to lose some steam when Drew’s drug-addict half-brother (Ethan from LOST!) comes forward and admits that he helped move a mystery barrel from Stacy’s bedroom to Drew’s car. Stacy’s pastor comes forward and claims that Stacy confessed that Drew went missing the night of Karen’s death. Drew gets arrested but doesn’t go sanely. He performs a slow-motion strip tease while changing into his prison oranges. The End. Thank God we at least got five seconds of topless Rob Lowe.

AWESOMENESS: 13

Oh god, I didn’t even mention “I’m untouchable, bitch.” I guess it was sort of anti-climatic? Drew Peterson was eminantly touchable. The police touched him and threw him in jail. Also, watching the trailer 45 times kind of takes some of the novelty away.

Still well worth anyone’s time.

HEY! IT’S THAT GUY: 8

I dunno. I don’t want to give Lifetime too much credit for hiring a well-known actor who is actually working on a regular basis. If they throw a ton of money at someone, that’s not really as impressive as seeing someone before or past their prime. That being said, Rob Lowe was the bad guy in two of the funniest movies ever made: Wayne’s World and Tommy Boy. (I guess you could make a case that a post-NAFTA Midwestern economy was the bad guy in Tommy Boy, but whatever.)  And the dude banged a 16-year-old on tape and got away with it. Living the dream!

Stacy was played by the lady from The Big Bang Theory. I was shocked to find out that she is younger than me. Either she looks old or I look young. Karen was in Season Four of Mad Men but her character was shitty so no extra points there.

And Ethan! From LOST! He knows a thing or two about making pretty blondes disappear.

OH GOD SOMEONE CHECK THE MANIFEST!

As previously mentioned, the Karen character was pretty problematic. Demerits. Everything else was spot on. Women being terrorized and abused but nothing can be done because of an evil man and his evil police force buddies.

GRAND TOTAL: 28

This movie wasn’t great, but it flies by fast enough and Rob Lowe does a nice job. Twenty-eight is usually a slam dunk recommendation, but, I dunno, it could have been more.

I do think the best possible outcome is that Stacy Peterson shows up after spending the last year in Tahiti and Drew Peterson sues Lifetime for a jillion dollars. If he gets acquitted, Lifetime might be in some trouble.

Hey, Lifetime Jokes on SNL! October 18, 2011

Posted by Rusty in Uncategorized.
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Holy mother of God it’s difficult to embed Hulu videos on WordPress. Sorry, you have to click to see this great SNL sketch.

Worst part: Describing Lifetime as “television for white women.” Uh, have you seen “Sins of the Mother“? And how could you miss that Lifetime is remaking Steel Magnolias with an all-black cast? (To be fair, if you have diabetes you are probably black or Southern, so that makes sense.)

Best part: “She named the baby Tanya.” “Yes.”That is a perfect description of movies like Sins of the Mother, The Pregnancy Pact, and Fifteen and Pregnant where the physical act of giving birth turns a little girl lost into a strong and forceful mother who puts family first.Makes me want to puke.

Invisible Child September 20, 2011

Posted by Rusty in Uncategorized.
9 comments

Wow, five weeks since our last post. Even in the bad times, that’s a pretty bad stretch of inactivity. Truth be told, the inactivity was especially unplanned. I started watching Invisible Child two weeks ago. But I couldn’t finish it. It’s not just bad, it’s a special kind of bad. Drop Dead Fred bad. Awkward. Not good awkward. Bad awkward. Just a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach for two hours.

So now that I’ve set the stage, let’s do this:

We meet Annie Beeman posting a help wanted ad at the local college for a nanny. She has three kids and needs some extra help.

A British student, not Louise Woodward, just shows up at the Beeman house a few days later and asks for the job. That’s right, our nanny, Gillian, just appears at this house looking for work. Shows initiative, I suppose.

But lest you think Gillian is a nutso, wait until you meet the Beemans. The architect dad, Tim, has no idea that his wife was looking to hire a nanny. Oh, and one of their kids doesn’t exist. Not even a little bit. This isn’t a “pretend the dead kid is still alive” dealio, this kid is a straight-out invention courtesy of Mom. The husband and the precocious 10-year-old daughter (Her?*) play along for the sake of keeping the family together. The four-year-old son is convinced this fiction, Maggie, is real.

Gillian is way too comfortable with this and takes the job immediately. As in, she moves into their crazy home right away. The mom posted this position in secret a few days ago and they already have full nanny quarters? That is weird? And she immediately starts giving an invisible child a bath! What is going on here!?

So, not to skip ahead, but obviously the nanny is evil. OBVIOUSLY. None of this fazes her and she keeps doing weird things. Her only previous nanny experience is raising her siblings, but she refuses to discuss her family under any circumstances. And she keeps undermining the whole charade! She keeps giving the fake kid seconds on its food knowing that the 10-year-old (Her?**) is going to have to eat it (and it’s always vegetables, not, say, a hard boiled egg and mayonnaise packet***). And, then when the 10-year-old starts to crack, Gillian tries to get her to move to England with her! It’s as 10-year-old as the nose on plain’s face**** that the nanny is crazy!

*
**
***
**** You get what I’m doing here, right? I can stop. Please let me stop.

When the 10-year-old refuses to move spend Christmas in England with her nanny’s family, Gillian goes to a shrink who confirms the effed-upness of the situation. Next step: Social Services! Social services is very interested. Too interested? They start asking too many questions. Green card talk is bandied about. Gillian leaves. Probably because too many questions will reveal her background as a kidnapper, right?

Ugh, no.

It turns out the movie was playing it straight all along. Gillian is normal. Annie is crazy for some reason that is purported to be legitimate (it is not), so she isn’t looking to cause any problems. The husband just loves his wife so much that he won’t do anything to break the spell. The kids? Well, fuck the kids. They don’t have to deal with adult shit yet. So, if everything is so great, who’s the bad guy?

Ugh.

Uggggh.

Social services. They are the bad guys. They show up at the Beeman’s with armed officers. They need to speak to the kids or they will be taken away! I am pretty sure this is not how that works, but, why not. The dad’s lawyer even confirms it.

Gillian admits to being the snitch, but because she is such a good nanny, the family (sans Crazy Mom) decides to work around it. They set up a meeting with social services and deny everything. Gillian even claims she never brought up an imaginary child to the county in the first place. The daughter even goes as far as to claim the imaginary child is like Martin Luther King: She isn’t alive, but she lives in our hearts. The black social service worker is very impressed. (In case this wasn’t clear, that was not a joke. There really is a black case worker who sympathizes with the Beemans once they mention MLK.)

Coaching a pre-teen to lie to the authorities works and they all high-five in the street. The mom is so inspired by her family and nanny working together to trick people dedicated to look out for the welfare of children that she pretends her fake daughter died of a fever in her sleep. THE END.

(What’s amazing about this ending is that there are all of these horrible scenes where the mom is pretending she has an extra daughter and it is so awkward. Hospitals, schools, the boardwalk, etc. But when she “dies,” fuck protocol. THEY BURY IT IN THE BACKYARD.)

AWESOMENESS: 2

I was intrigued when I thought that the nanny was evil. Once that went by the wayside, woof. I repeat, this movie took me three weeks to watch. It’s that bad.

HEY! IT’S THAT GUY!: 10

The Beeman Dad is the ultimate “that guy.” Ladies and gentlemen: Victor Garber. BOOM. Mid-level parts in Titanic, Legally Blonde, and Milk? Garber is in the That Guy Hall of Fame.

Annie is played by Rita Wilson. She is married to Tom Hanks. More importantly, she is in one of my favorite movies of all-time: Now and Then.

Obviously the daughter is Ann from Arrested Development. That was clear, yes?

LIFETIMENESS: 3

Surprisingly un-Lifetimey! The demonization of local authorities is pretty spot on, but the movie is about a married young dude and a younger, suspicious nanny teaming up for something other than kidnapping or adultery. That’s nuts.

GRAND TOTAL: 15

Just watch the trailer. It tell you all you need to know and you can save yourself 98 minutes or so of misery.

Magic Beyond Words July 25, 2011

Posted by Rusty in Uncategorized.
4 comments

I have always been and continue to be a contrarian asshole. This is not a news flash to anyone who has made my acquaintance. But like Jules in Pulp Fiction, I’m trying. I’m trying real hard. I want to be a better man (mostly so I can bang the chick from the song, Better Man). I recently made a huge step in my path towards not being so unpleasant: I started reading Harry Potter.

Harry Potter came out when I was 14. Really the perfect age for a boy to avoid Harry Potter. I was reading Stephen King (scary clowns! swear words!) and Kurt Vonnegut (he sees right through the bullshit, man). A book about an 11-year-old British wizard? I knew even then not to use the word “gay” in a derogatory manner, but that is the gayest shit I had ever heard.

I watched Harry Potter become more and more popular and soon enough a new book coming out was a national event. Because I’m an asshole I ruined a character’s death from the sixth book and had “Hermoine dies” as my status message 48 hours before the final book was released in 2007. I don’t know why I treated Potter fans so scornfully, but I did.

Now I’m an old man. Twenty-eight. That means I work with people who are between the ages of 23 and 26. Jesus Christ, they LOVE Harry Potter. And I would never say this to their face, but they’re all nice, kind, intelligent, quick-witted people who are a pleasure to work with. So I convinced myself that I missed out. A friend lent me the first Harry Potter and I started it a few days ago.

I love that an 11-yr-old boy can be transformed into a "sexy" costume

It’s awesome. It’s so good. It’s not perfect (it is a kid’s book for Christ’s sake), but I am very happy and, frankly, excited to enter into this world.

So why five paragraphs of me (figuratively)(you hope) jerking myself off over my life story? Because I just watched a movie where a woman writes, has her mom die, and then writes some more. Then she becomes famous. I can’t imagine anyone other than a typewriter fetishist enjoying Magic Beyond Words. Not a lot of noteworthy stuff happens, and I have to write about something, amiright?

So let’s hammer out some notes on the movie:

1. JK Rowling is unpopular in high school. This makes no sense. She is slender and has a rich girl rack (a big B, think Paltrow and Lively). Her accent is sing-songy and she is obviously brilliant. Still, she is picked on by the Queen Bees of her school. But the Queen Bees are all brunette, overweight, have split ends, and speak in a Cockney accent. Um, the reason Queen Bees have power is because everyone wants to fuck them. There is no school in the entire world where the gorgeous blonde (and I prefer brunettes!) would be lower than these bullies on the social ladder. It’s ridiculous.

But still worth it to see Rowling get beaten down in a hallway.

2. Rowling meets a boy in Portugal and she catches him going through her stuff. His defense: “I am falling in love with you.” Relationship escalates.

Rowling catches boy in Portugal cheating on her His defense: “Marry me.” They get married.

I know Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, not the Nobel Prize for Good Decision Making, but for a supposedly brilliant person, what the fuck, JK Rowling?

3. Rowling ditches Portuguese husband after he gets abusive. She moves to England and applies for benefits. She protests she can’t live on 69 pounds a week. The caseworker’s response: “You should have thought about that before you left your husband.”

NOPE.

My job is signing people up for benefits, so I pay attention to how these things are portrayed in media. I am happy that the movie goes of its way to make receiving benefits look honorable. But no caseworker in their right mind would ever, ever say that to a woman coming out of an abusive relationship. Has it happened before in the history of time? Yeah, maybe. Probably. But, no.

4. So JK Rowling is apartment hunting and she finds a place that costs 300 pounds a month. She needs to provide an employment history to prove she can afford the place. Obviously that’s a problem. But the landlord lets her stay anyways because “it’s clear you love your daughter.” Wait, what? She makes 297 pounds a month. The place costs 300. But you’ve known this lady for five minutes, so she is obviously Parent of the Year. Another no.

5. The movie ends with a big Harry Potter movie premiere. Rowling leaves and thinks about her life and her (dead) mother. She looks at her own daughter and starts reading to her. Because no matter how successful you are, your worth as a woman is defined by your mothering abilities.

AWESOMENESS: 5

Not the worst thing in the world, just boring. It’s a story of nothing with occasional Sorcerer’s Stone references sprinkled about to keep the Harry Potter nerds in line. “Oh my God, that page says “The Sorting Hat.” This is where she wrote about the sorting! A talking hat! How droll! How whimsical!”

HEY! IT’S THAT GUY!: 0

"Stop objectifying me, Muggle!" ~H$

Nope. Didn’t recognize a single name or a single face. I think this is the first “0” ever.

LIFETIMENESS: 8

I don’t know all the details of JK Rowling’s personal life. So maybe this was accurate, but the way her first husband is portrayed is fantastic. It’s like Lifetime panicked that there were no men in the movie and someone had to be the bad guy. Not just bad. Adulterous and abusive. Evil. Welcome to Lifetime!

Sort of off-topic, but I do think it’s awesome that she made it big while living off of the system. That is what the system is around for. I also love that she’s repaid the favor by supporting high taxes for the social safety net and not being a tax exile asshole like Bono or (I’m sorry) Freddie Mercury.

GRAND TOTAL: 13

Woof. I hope Ms. Rowling isn’t offended. She should know that even if her life story is whack, her first book is amazing.