Monday, June 21, 2010

The return of Leverage

It's been a long...however long it was...but Leverage is back. On a new night too, Sunday nights at 8 PM, which works out just swimmingly for me. Even better, last night (and next week) was a double dose of cons. After last season, we had Nate bleeding from a gunshot wound and under arrest, the rest of the team (including Sophie) safely off, and Sterling triumphant...mostly.

Last night, we start right off with breaking Nate out of prison. A well-oiled plan that goes according to schedule, and then...turns out to be a fantasy that Sophie is spinning to Nate while he's in jail. He doesn't want them to break him out, he wants to serve his time. Well, I guess that rules out Nate, let's see what the rest of the group will get up to. Oh wait, Nate found a client in the clink. Guess it's time to break open that kielbasa, dig out the earbud, and get back to what they do best: providing leverage.

Turns out the warden is crooked and is paying off judges in exchange for them giving out jail time to middle-class petty crimes in order for him to make his jail's capacity quotas. Shifty deal, and since the guards are beating (and killing) prisoners for money on the inside, it's none too safe for Nate and Billy (the client, or at least, I think that's his name). Fun fact, looks like Billy was played by Aldis Hodge's brother. Nepotism? Who cares, he was good.

Nate stabs Billy to get him in the protected confines of the infirmary, and Eliot comes in as a new prison doctor to provide extra protection. Good scene where Nate fakes a toothache to get a chance to talk to Eliot in provate, which Eliot uses as a chance to get Nate under the lights and let him know how he feels about being conned by him (in the season two finale). All is well though (although Sophie told the rest of the team her real name while Nate's been in the clink), and Hardison comes in to work the warden and get into his files. Sophie ropes him in, using a fake Senate campaign to set him up to take a fall. From the inside, Nate has to walk the prison, helping them build a map from the inside of cameras, heat sensors, and motion detectors. Love the trichotomy of Hardison's computer map, Parker's glassboard map with stickers, and the one Nate makes out of a chess board and various game pieces. The escape was a wonder of low tech, with steam fooling the motion sensor and a frozen trash bag getting Nate past the heat sensors. Parker's model helicopter (which had been set up at a couple points in the episode) fooled the guards, and a ruse with Hardison's new van helps Nate escape and set up the warden as an accomplice. Even better, we get Hardison and Parker pretending to make out in the van as a distraction (or as Parker asks "We were pretending"?). Parker had some great moments in the episode, especially the photoshoot for the fake incriminating photos (of the incumbent Senator, used to help sink the hook).

However, the con had a wild card in it, a mystersious (and hot) Italian agent who is after Nate and his team in order to set them on this season's Big Bad, a guy who bankrolls many different major criminal organizations, and a man not to be taken on headfirst. As Nate reasons out though, they can keep taking their usual jobs, and just try to steer towards ones that will help them get a hook into the Big Bad. Oh and Nate's drinking again.

Which leads us into Episode 2, as the team proceeds to take a job with...absolutely no obvious tie-in to the Big Bad. Eh, can't have everything on a platter, I suppose. Instead, we get a mysterious program called Manticore, which is stifling internet traffic to and from Iran, and helping Iranians catch some protestors or somesuch. Honestly, it's probably an interesting issue, it just gets shuffled to the side for the main thrust of the episode, which is that the computer software guru (and jerk...and nerd) who runs the program. They break into his office, but the program is running off of his 1985 computer, which Hardison just can't hack. Instead, they need to get his password, which they deduce is based off of something from high school, since his office (and the computer) shows that he is obsessed with his high school experiences. So (although they don't say it), let's go steal a reunion.

Sophie (showing off an array of voices), manages to get the reunion moved up a few months so that they can use it to pump Duberman for information. Sophie creates a fictional student, while Nate just borrows the identity of the class clown (and Duberman's nemesis). Hardison gets to stay in the van and run rapid-fire background checks on the other attendees while Parker works the room as catering and provides backup. Eliot gets to go back to Dubertech to be able to punch in the password once they discover it. And eventually, beat up some Iranians who came for Manticore.

Throwing a wrench into the works is a hot assassin played by MTV's Kari Wuhrer. Still kinda hot, not gonna lie. She puts the moves on Nate to get him out of the way, then we get a kung-fu vs fire extinguisher fight with her and Sophie (also hot). They dispatch her (she was sent by the Iranians too...they ruin everything), but slip on a detail and reveal themselves to Duberman as fakes. He changes his password...which Eliot is able to punch right in thanks to Sophie's linguistic programming. It was set up earlier, with Sophie able to train Eliot to unconsiously pour and prepare her tea with the right verbal and tactile cues. In this case, they were able to hack Duberman into changing his password by using repeated variations of Badger85 (school mascot, and graduating year). Eliot's consternation at missing the reunion was hilarious at the end. Couple of sweet moments too, as Nate and Sophie manage to be crowned King and Queen of the reunion and get a dance together. Even sweeter; Hardison and a dangling Sophie (from her thieving harness) sharing their own dance up in the rafters.

Next week, Parker gets caught during a break-in, and Hardison must pass as a concert violinist. Yes, two more new Leverage episodes in six short days. Be there!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Finally, Doctor Who!

I've been jonesing bad for The Doctor, but my crazy mixed-up schedule has kept me from him for too long. Well, I'm catching up now, and none too soon. If i'd known how much I was going to enjoy Amy's Choice, I'd have been hating myself even more the last couple weeks.

I was going to watch these back to back, but I just finished Amy's Choice and it feels like the ending of the arc, so I'm going to review, then go to the next episode:

So we open on an idyllic country cottage, where a pregnant Amy is bak...umm, pregnant? Yes, Amy is pregnant, and Rory is an extra in a 1980's Dexy's Midnight Runners video. The TARDIS shows up, and The Doctor comes out to reminisce about all the fun they had five years ago. Some creepy old people are about, and then they all fall asleep.

And wake up in the TARDIS. ? They all had the same dream, then the same birds are chirping, and they wake up back in the quaint village? Buh? Okay, so something odd is definitely going on, but nothing for Amy to choose from yet (just kidding, we all know she's going to choose Rory or The Doctor by the end of the hour, let's watch). The Doctor starts by interrogating some very old people, only they can summon the birdsong? They wake back up in the TARDIS, and there's another guy. The Dreamlord. You can't touch him, only see and hear him as he taunts our heroes and sets up the rules for the episode.

As an aside, I love this kind of stuff in my sci-fi. Star Trek did it well with The Squire of Gothis and all the Q episodes. Godlike entity, sets up a situation, clearly defined rules...and go. In this case, one world is a dream, one is reality, and they must choose one. They will face deadly peril in both worlds, but by allowing the peril in the dream to overtake them, they will survive and win the game, and valuable prizes shall be theirs for the taking. The Dreamlord gets all meta on the Doctor, calling him out for being all dashing and floppy haired and an "intergalactic wag". Loved that term. Anyway, it seems like the TARDIS world is the obvious real world, so the sci-fi twist would be to make the pregnant world the real world. Or both. Or neither.

Anyway, after some mucking about, we finally get to the real choice, Amy's choice between the dreamy Doctor, or good old dependable Rory (ponytail optional). Oh, right, and the mortal dangers. Behind Door #1 we have the TARDIS out of power and drifting towards a "cold star". Behind Curtain #2, an army of old people with aliens living inside them who can shoot poo gas out of the eyes in their mouths and turn people to dust. Back in the icy TARDIS, the Dreamlord (who looooooves taunting), sends The Doctor and Rory away so he and Amy can have a chat. After all, it is her choice. He offers her the chance to stay with him and be his Companion...of Dreams? I guess. She trusts the Doctor and knows that he tells her everything. The Dreamlord scoffs and asks "What's his name?".

Back in the village of old people, The Doctor is locked in a meat freezer for protection, and Rory has dragged a sleeping (and huge, I forgot about the several jokes about Amy's size in this episode) Amy upstairs. The Doctor swips a VW bus, saves a few villagers, then heads over to Rory and Amy's place. Rory takes the dramatic step of cutting off his ponytail and has a nice moment with Amy before the Doctor crashes in through the window. Rory takes a shot to the side and slowwwwwly turns to dust. Amy realizes that she does love Rory, and whether this world is a dream or not, she doesn't want to be in a world without him. Amy and the Doctor head back down to the VW, crash it into the house, and

wake up back in the TARDIS. All is well, Amy loves Rory and the TARDIS works again. So the Doctor blows it up.

You see, the Dreamlord can't affect the physical world, so how could he stop down the TARDIS? It's all explained as such: Crystalline psychic pollen got in the time widgets, sent them all into a dreamstate, and the Doctor's dark side manifested itself as the Dreamlord. Of course. Well, that was kind of a ball-kick of an ending. At least we got the important issue settled, even if it did feel a little more Holodeck than Q by the end.

Oh my, The Hungry Earth is another two-parter. Well, i've got some time, let's dig into it.

A Doctor-less intro gives us a drilling team in Wales, 2020. They're drilling to 21,000 kilometers, further than anyone has ever drilled before. Some kid's dad takes over the night shift, and gets swallowed up into the ground.

The Doctor has promised Rio, but delivered a gray countryside. Amy is not happy. Also, they see themselves waving at themselves. Wonder if that will come back. Rory heads back to the TARDIS to return Amy's engagement ring to a safe place, while Amy follows The Doctor to a big drilling thingy, which Rio most decidedly does not have. Inside the drill control room, more holes open in the ground, and begin to swallow up an old guy. Amy stops to help him, gets sucked into a hole herself, and despite the best efforts of the Doctor (in full-on "I'm going to get you out of this" mode), she is swallowed up by the patch of ground. Rory, meanwhile, has been mistaken for an officer and led to a graveyard where bodies have been disappearing out of the ground. Spooky. Rory and the Doctor finally meet up, and Rory is not happy about the loss of Amy. The Doctor does a little "You've all got to do exactly what I say" speechifying, and they set about creating a defense against whatever is coming up from the bowels of the Earth (oh, and has dropped a forcefield around them too). They crowd into the church (which has the worst stuck door ever...and can't even be soniced. "That is rubbish", says Rory), but the dyslexic Sherlock Holmes kid is still outside. He is taken, but the Doctor uses cool sunglasses to track down and capture one of the lizard people (cold-blooded, so he uses a fire extinguisher and the refrigerated back of a meals on wheels truck). he interrogates the captive, who turns out to be a descendant of the first species on Earth, lizard people! They considered the drill an attack, and the warrior caste feels the urge to wipe out the apes and take the planet back. The Doctor is all about brokering a peace, and gives another stirring speech, this one to convince them not to hurt the prisoner/hostage until he can go into the Earth and negotiate.

Basically, this episode was setting a lot of stuff on the table, and then paying it off next episode. We've got the old guy and his weird green veins (from being tongue-stabbed by a lizard), the mom who has a nice collection of improvised weapons, the weird kid, the scientist who hitched a ride with the Doctor, Amy and the kid's dad (who was dissected while still alive...oww), and finally...was that really Amy and Rory waving to them?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Moar Burn Notice

So Burn Notice is in full swing, and Michael is in search of Jesse, the spy who Michael inadvertently burned last week. Michael has convinced Vaughn to let him bring Jesse in as an asset, rather than have him shipped off to parts unknown. Michael's first act is to help Jesse out of a setup, a mysterious group of well-dressed thugs try to nab him, but thanks to a bicycle chain and some nearby power lines (and hopefully a stunt that isn't tested out in real life by some drunken "Mythbuster"), Jesse is able to escape. He tracks Michael down, and we have our client.

Michael goes with "Burn Notice Plan A", pretend to be a fellow bad guy and ingratiate himself with the enemy. In this case, it's "Turner", one of my new favorite aliases. Pretty standard-grade stuff, although Jesse has a flair for improvisation and a reluctance for teamwork. At this point, i'm hoping they can keep him around as a recurring character. I especially liked the little character-building heart to heart he had with Fi. Giving her a more gung-ho guy to play off of could make for some interesting times.

Hmm, they took care of the bad guy pretty quickly this week...ohhh, no they didn't. Khan's out, and he found Jesse. And he has him all hooked up to electrodes. Fortunately, they only show the ones attached from the waist up. Michael, as "Turner", still has an in though. Neat bit of spycraft as Michael is able to pass a message on to Jesse in plain sight, and manage to get the bad guy and his number two man to Reservoir Dogs each other.

Oh, and how nice, Jesse is moving in with Michael's mom. How conveeeeeeenient. Of course they're keeping him around, he's the information source for the meta-plot. Well, good for him, and it'll be nice to see what happens when he finally learns the truth about Mr. Weston. Jesse is a holder of grudges. Good start to the season, can't wait to see where this goes, especially the inevitable confrontation between Jesse and Michael.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Has it seriously been two weeks?

Between the end of the "regular season", a change in my work schedule, and post-finals lazyness, it has been a while for this blog. However, the summer season has started, and I've got a little catching up to do. First off, Burn Notice.

When last we left Mr. Weston, he'd saved Frasier's dad from Simon the Mad Bomber (who had better come back), and then was bundled off to some secret prison somewhere, where he finds himself in a tastefully appointed study. Michael has been recruited by Vaughn, a new mystery man, who needs his help to track down a new Big Bad with deep pockets and his fingers in a lot of pies. Welcome to Season Four.

After a stop to a "gun enthusiast" in the middle of the jungle, Michael agrees to take the case, and winds up back in Miami. He stops in to see mom, and apologizes...for everything. A rarity, a scene between Michael and his mother that I actually would have liked to see more of. The reunion with Fiona is next, and wouldn't you know it, she's loading up guns because she has a client. Winston has been green-lit for death by a biker gang, and negotiations aren't going well.

The biker gang stuff was standard client stuff, although the wrap-up involved a great chase scene and a couple of funny bits involving Winston and Big Ed (leader of the biker gang). As for the new meta-plot, Michael slips into a secure facility to grab some files but accidentally winds up getting the spy whose identity he "borrowed" arrested and blacklisted. As Sam points out, Michael just burned a spy. Next week...Michael helps that spy? Wow, nice turnaround.

Good start to the season, all the cogs are turning, and this season's plot seems a little juicier than last season's.

I also wanted to touch on The Good Guys, the new series from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix. The pilot was a little choppy, but I loves me some Bradley Whitford, and there were some promising elements in the episode. Bradley Whitford plays a former 70's supercop who's on the outs with the department, but still sticks around because of his fame from one big case back in his heyday. Colin Hanks is his by the book partner who is stuck with him because his behavior has annoyed everyone else in the department. The bit seems to be that they get assigned to embarrasingly minor cases, but then stumble into bigger ones. Nix has a good formula going with Burn Notice, and Good Guys looks to take the same approach: find a routine that works, and beat it into the ground. Burn Notice has the season long arcs to keep it going though, and once I catch up on episode two, we'll see if Good Guys will have the same kind of staying power.

Also, one thing I decided to check out was Top Shot on the History Channel. It's a marksmanship competition hosted by Survivor's Colby Donaldson, and it promises a variety of challenges with a variety of historical and modern weapons. I'm all for skill-based competitions, so as long as they keep putting them up on Hulu, I'll be checking it out.

The first team challenge is interesting, as they have to use four older models of rifles, but they actually get to practice with the weapons and get training from an expert. As opposed to the usual "here's some stuff, go nuts" way that challenges to on reality competitions, this is refreshing to see. There's still the social aspect of the game, but not as much as other shows, and there's still a lot of professional courtesy. Considering how many of them are military or law enforcement, and how disciplined the skillset is, I'm not too surprised.

Deciding who goes into the elimination challenge is interesting, some of these people know each other and have reputations as great shooters. Still nice to see that it hasn't gone too negative...yet. It is reality TV after all. Colby has learned a lot at the feet of the Probst. The finals were good, and it was some good respectful competition. Almost too respectful for reality TV, but props for History Channel for elevating the game.