TV Review: Dracula

This American 'Dracula' Proves to Be Simply Irresistible to the English

...But apart from these familiar names, this Dracula has as much in common with The Count of Monte Cristo as it does to its own source material. In this iteration of the story, Dracula awakens in Victorian England. He adopts a false persona—that of Alexander Grayson, super-rich industrialist from the United States, “as American as God, guns, and bourbon”—and sets out to get revenge on the old order that imprisoned him in a coffin for centuries and murdered his wife.

Grayson decides that the best way to exact his vengeance is through emptying his foes’ wallets. The adversaries inhabit the entrenched upper echelon of society, fully at ease with their “overtly grotesque sense of entitlement,” with their money tied up, of course, in the oil industry. Naturally, Grayson takes them on by starting a green energy company, harnessing the power of wireless electricity. His attack sets up the most insistent, and strangest, theme that carries throughout the series. It’s a sort of class warfare, with Grayson positioning himself as an outsider determined on destroying the established societal order.

He seems an unlikely class warrior, considering his vast fortune, but his opponents consider his wealth “new,” and so, beneath their own. This gives him some odd moral authority, at least in this show’s version of such things. Plus, Grayson has a fondness for outsiders and misfits. The most obvious embodiment would be his second-hand man, R.M. Renfield (Nonso Anozie), a lawyer who’s often misjudged by the old money folks because he’s African American. It happens that Mina is also a nonconformist of sorts, as too many male doctors underestimate her.

Wealthy and well situated as he may be, with friends like these, Grayson takes on some underdog sheen, applied mostly to his business dealings, along with Grayson’s acquisition of patents, testing of alloys, and uncovering of bribes. The couple of high-energy action scenes and bouts of bloody violence might be said to punctuate these more mundane bits of corporate espionage. While these scenes can be unsavory, they’re hardly frightening and rarely suspenseful...

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TV Review: Hello Ladies

The show gets at this theme by making smart use of its Los Angeles setting. Telegraphing Stuart’s loneliness through takeout dinners and microwave meals only goes so far. Hello Ladiespushes that mood even further, showing the isolation he feels in crowds. As he heads out into the wilds of the city, rubbing up against velvet ropes and bottle service, his not quite earnest awkwardness also serves as an indictment of Hollywood superficiality and club culture. But as Stuart tries to become a part of this scene, throwing over a girl he was chatting up for someone hotter, then heading back to the first one, as she seems, on second thought, more of a “sure thing,” it’s obvious he’s unable to navigate any social nuances, such as they are. 

He’s not the only one stymied by LA. In the second episode, Jessica tries to push her social circle by hosting an at-home salon, with plans for the group to listen to jazz music, discuss politics, and watch foreign films (her choice: Battleship Potemkin). Here she shows herself susceptible to another kind of artifice. When Stuart asks her to name her favorite jazz musicians, she responds with “The Loneliest Monk.” Still, her friends resist, preferring to discuss celebrity recipes they haven’t tried yet, but really want to.

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TV Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

One thing the show doesn’t take from the Marvel movies, though, is their knowing tone. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is serious business. No one tries to imitate Tony Stark’s smooth-talking charm or Captain America’s goofy datedness. Sure, there’s a sprinkling Joss Whedon’s trademark quips. (“I don’t think Thor is technically a God.”/“You haven’t been near his arms.”) But mostly, the characters talk to each other like everything they’re saying is of paramount importance. “The battle of New York was the end of the world,” Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) tells fellow agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). “This, now, is the new world.” Such overly earnest dialogue casts a dour feeling over the entire premiere.

For now, we settle for Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the leader of the pack, who’s an oasis amid all this peevishness. He delivers some of the same portentous lines as the rest of the cast, but Gregg is so affable and odd, he’s better able to ground them. He’s also most likely to follow up a government-agent cliché with a joke. “You’re asking me to drive the bus?” May asks him, unwilling to leave her desk. “I’m not asking,” Coulson responds. “But it’s a really nice bus.”

The Hairpin: Personal Essay

I auditioned for a game show. I didn't get cast or win the big money, but I did turn the experience into a personal essay for The Hairpin.

Give us 6 UNIQUE FUN FACTS about yourself. Fun facts can be anything from your biggest achievements, to a special talent, to a life story. What sets you apart from every other contestant? Make yourself stand out! Start with: What game shows have you appeared on? When? How much money did you win?

I have never appeared on a game show. Frankly, I've never really thought about appearing on a game show. Sure, I've mentally spent the jackpot prizes I've seen on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and set a personal limit for taking the deal on Deal or No Deal?—as soon as it hit six figures, I'd be out—but I've never really strived to be in the hot seat on either one.

I am, however, a game-show fan. In high school, when the other upperclassmen used their off-campus lunch privileges to take long walks and smoke cigarettes, I went to a friend's house to watch The Price Is Right. My sister and I had mapped out a game plan for Supermarket Sweep (start with the expensive turkey and ham, then grind the coffee for the $100 bonus). We dreamed of retiring to Tahiti with our winnings, spending our days drinking rum-based cocktails. Even today, there are countless times when I, about to embark on some task, think to myself: "No whammies."

But I never wanted to be a contestant in real life. I learned as the curtain rose on my high school's senior class production of Grease­—where I had the plum role of Dance Contestant #2—that I have stage fright. And so, shying away from a life on the stage, I've happily relegated myself to playing the home game...

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TV Review: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

'Brooklyn Nine-Nine': Cops and Recreation

The only thing that Brooklyn Nine-Nine doesn’t try to cram into the pilot is any sense of place. Sure, plenty of cop shows are located in New York City. That Brooklyn Nine-Nine zeroes on Brooklyn specifically seems like it should be significant, but the locations used in the pilot—a generic electronics store, an empty storage center—could be found in any city in America. (I fully admit that, as a Brooklyn resident, I might be overly sensitive.)

It’s not that the borough doesn’t have comedic or even scenic potential. Brooklyn Nine-Nine may have even attempted a joke at its expense in the pilot, one of the items stolen during a theft is, of all things, a really expensive ham. That seems like a crack at foodie culture and the proliferation of yuppy grocery stores in Brooklyn, but to make the parody land, the show could have pushed it further; the sham could have been an artisanally cured, hand-butchered ham meant for some kind of farm-to-table, nose-to-tail dining experience. And the thug who rips it off is your run-of-the-mill TV criminal, which leaves you wondering if he really has connections to the black market that would be interested in such a very expensive ham.

That said, even without exploring Brooklyn’s gentrification growing pains, the premiere covers a fair amount of ground in its half hour, however superficially. You get the basic outline of how the precinct works, some jokes, an open-and-shut case, and introductions to the main players delivered as Holt gets a rundown on each of the detectives from Sergeant Jeffords (Terry Crews, sadly underused in the first episode).

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TV Review: The Goodwin Games

Even though the show is basically pre-cancelled by Fox, I reviewed it and found it entertaining.

First challenge: complete a game of Trivial Pursuit, with all the questions altered to cover family history. (Dare we call that “adorkable?”) When the trio returns to home to compete for the money, running into former best friends and ex-sweethearts, The Goodwin Games expands its focus beyond the borders of a family-based sitcom. Now it becomes part-homecoming, part-Parenthood, part-It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World, with elements of David Fincher’s The Game thrown in for good measure...

It doesn’t seem likely that the estate will be settled before the show goes off the air. Yet even though the show may never fulfill its central plot purpose, watching the reduced number of episodes may be like one of Benjamin’s challenges: a little silly, likely to conjure up a few heavy sighs, but ultimately an entertaining diversion.

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DVD Reviews: BBC's Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland

Two of the worst Alice adaptations I've ever seen!

A 3-Dimensional World, Flattened: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' & 'Alice in Wonderland'

...Alice Through the Looking Glass is hardly a joy to watch. The scenes mostly take place with the actors standing in front of painted, storybook backgrounds, a halo of green-screen surrounding them. In each scene, Alice comes upon another character, they stand almost stock-still and have some kind of loopy conversation, a poem is recited (reenacted by different actors in front of a different storybook background), and Alice is on her way again. It’s hardly cinematic and barely even dramatic. It’s one step beyond having someone read the book aloud at the local library. 

With all of its limitations, somehow Alice in Wonderland manages to be worse. The cheap sets and poor effects are still present despite the 13 year gap. Kate Dorning, who’s taken over the role of Alice, seems much too old for the part—with someone as old as she is demonstrating a basic lack of understand about how the world works, she comes across as just plain simple (and with a squeakily high voice). Sometimes she argues with herself aloud, other times her inner monologue is presented as a voiceover, and it’s impossible to tell why one is used over the other...

... With the low-budget production values and bad special effects, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland combine the worst of public-access television with the worst of community theater. Take, for instance, the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland. There’s a crowd of extras, but the stage is so small there isn’t room for any running. Instead, the characters just shuffle about, remarking at how chaotic it all seems. It’s so ineffective, it can’t even be appreciated as camp.

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New Show Review: The Carrie Diaries

A couple reasons why I like The Carrie Diaries better than Sex and the City

'The Carrie Diaries': High School Origin Story


The Carrie Diaries
keeps that trademark narration, but maintains the idea that it’s comprised of diary entries. No one assumes that people are interested in reading the inner thoughts of a 16-year-old Carrie, and no one is paying her to write it. That detail alone makes The Carrie Dairies more endearing than its adult counterpart. If the lessons Carrie learns are a little too pat, if her sentiments are a little too treacly, and if her word choices are clunky and awkward, it’s okay. That’s what teenage diaries are for.


The consumer-oriented, label-obsessing focus of Sex and the City is also thankfully absent from The Carrie Dairies. Instead of rattling off the names of fashion houses, the names the girls drop are ‘80s cultural touchstones: Indochine, Interview magazine, Rob Lowe. When Carrie talks about how much she prizes the few possessions she has of her mother’s—a purse and a pair of sunglasses—the brand names are never mentioned. She treasures them for emotional reasons, not status-seeking ones.


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DVD Review: Girls - The Complete First Season

Forget the Baggage. Just Watch 'Girls: The Complete First Season.'

“I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice of a generation.”
– Hannah Horvath


Of all the shows that premiered in 2012, Lena Dunham’s Girls—a series about four 20-something friends trying to make their ways in New York City—debuted with the most baggage. Detractors had all sorts of complaints: The cast is too white. (Fair or not, it’s a criticism that didn’t hit the show’s similarly composed and obvious predecessor, Sex and the City, quite so doggedly.) The actors are too privileged. (Sure, but one could argue that Laurie Simmons is more famous for being Dunham’s mother and not the other way around, since Simmons isn’t exactly a household name.) Dunham herself doesn’t have quite the right body for the amount of nudity typically found on HBO shows. (Or is that to Girls’ credit?)

The thing is, these debates could—and did—rage on without having to watch a single episode. You can get all of the fuel for these attacks from the posters used in the show’s ad campaign.

If you could quiet the arguments around Girls for long enough to actually watch it, you could see the show’s content is not nearly as polarizing as the cultural discussion surrounding it. The series touches on themes of young adulthood that, if not universal, are pretty darn relatable: figuring out your place in the world, discovering the boundaries of your friendships, feeling simultaneously mature and childish. Of course, this all unfolds in a very specific, liberal-arts-educated, Brooklyn sort of way, which is why audiences may have felt excluded.

Still, Girls provides an honest snapshot of this ambiguous time of life, and it should be able to reach beyond its core demographic. Nothing illustrates this better than the show’s two central relationships, between wannabe writer Hannah Horvath (Dunham) and her type-A best friend Marnie (Allison Williams—yes, the daughter of Brian Williams), and between Hannah and her sort-of-boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver). Most girls have had a friendship like Hannah and Marnie’s, a bond so close it can’t help but alternate between giddy alone-in-the-apartment dance parties one moment and screaming, kick-you-out-of-the-apartment fights the next. And most girls have advised a friend to get rid of a boyfriend like Adam, the kind of person who could disappear for weeks at a time but return and focus on you so intently that you feel like you’re the only person in the world that matters to him.

It’s entertaining enough that Girls captures these kinds of post-adolescent relationships so perfectly and presents them in a way that makes you alternately squirm and feel moved. But Girls is also really, really funny. When the naïve Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet—yes daughter of David Mamet) accidentally takes drugs at a party (the “crackcident”), you might feel for her and relive some of your own wilder days, but when those drugs kick off a mile-a-minute monologue about how they inspired her to do better in her kickboxing class, you can’t help but laugh. And, when she busts out those kickboxing moves later in the episode, you might just die laughing. (Anyone who asserts that Mamet only got the part based on her familial connections probably hasn’t seen the seventh episode—she’s damn near perfect in it.) 

The way Girls expertly mixes humor and nostalgia and squeamish embarrassment has a lot in common with the previous work of another of the show’s executive producers: Judd Apatow. Just like you didn’t need to grow up in Chippewa, Michigan in the early ‘80s to understand the genius of Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, you don’t have to go to a party in Bushwick to feel for the characters in Girls. The theme of putting yourself out there for either greater success or total rejection runs through both shows. 

Apatow shows up here and there on the extras included with the Girls Blu-Ray, in a conversation with Lena Dunham and also an extended commentary on one of the episodes. But he doesn’t need to stump for the show—Dunham is a pretty good advocate for herself. You can hear her fast just-shy-of-a-ramble opinion in the wealth of special features, which includes a roundtable discussion with the cast, Dunham’s interview on Fresh Air, and quick “inside the episode” segments where Dunham gives a brief explanation behind the inspiration for each one. (There’s even a booklet of her tweets. Example: “Right after HBO announcement I got stuck in the bar bathroom & had to phone for help.”)

Unfortunately, by the time some of these extras were made, all of the heated opinions surrounding the show had already hit the internet, and the extra interviews spends time directly and indirectly addressing the flurry of criticism. It’s better to do what some of the early critics of Girls did not: Just watch the show.


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